Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Clear and Present Danger

Photograph: Ali Ali/EPA

An Israeli Call For Urgent Humanitarian Action In Gaza

Since the beginning of the campaign in Gaza on December 27, a heavy suspicion has arisen of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces. After the end of the hostilities, the time will come for the investigation of this matter, and accountability will be demanded of those responsible for the violations. At this point we call your attention to the clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians.

The level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented. According to the testimony of residents of the Gaza Strip and media reports, military forces are making wanton use of lethal force which has to date caused the deaths of hundreds of uninvolved civilians and destroyed infrastructure and property on an enormous scale. In addition, Israel is also hitting civilian objects, having defined them as "legitimate military targets" solely by virtue of their being "symbols of government."

Caught in the middle are 1.5 million civilians in extreme humanitarian distress, whose needs are not being adequately met by the limited measures taken by the army. That distress is detailed in the Appendix to this letter. Its main points are as follows:

  1. The fighting is taking place throughout the Gaza Strip, whose border crossings are closed, so that residents have nowhere to flee, neither inside the Gaza Strip nor by leaving it. Many are unable to escape from the battle zone to protect themselves. They are forced to live in fear and terror. The army's demand that they evacuate their homes so as to avoid injury has no basis. Some people who did escape are living as refugees, stripped of all resources.

  2. The health system has collapsed. Hospitals are unable to provide adequate treatment to the injured, nor can patients be evacuated to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip. This state of affairs is causing the death of injured persons who could have been saved. Nor are chronic patients receiving the treatment they need. Their health is deteriorating, and some have already died.

  3. Areas that were subject to intensive attacks are completely isolated. It is impossible to know the condition of the people who are there, whether they are injured and need treatment and whether they have food, water and medicine. The army is preventing local and international rescue teams from accessing those places and is also refraining from helping them itself, even though it is required to do so by law.

  4. Many of the residents do not have access to electricity or running water, and in many populated areas sewage water is running in the streets. That combination creates severe sanitation problems and increases the risk of an outbreak of epidemics.

This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes.

The responsibility of the State of Israel in this matter is clear and beyond doubt. The army's complete control of the battle zones and the access roads to them does not allow Israel to transfer that responsibility to other countries. Therefore we call on you to act immediately as follows:

  1. Stop the disproportionate harm to civilians, and stop targeting civilian objects that do not serve any military purpose, even if they meet the definition of "symbols of government."

  2. Open a route for civilians to escape the battle zone, while guaranteeing their ability to return home at the end of the fighting.

  3. Provide appropriate and immediate medical care to all of the injured and ill of the Gaza Strip, either by evacuating them to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip or by reaching another solution inside the Gaza Strip.

  4. Allow rescue and medical teams to reach battle-torn zones to evacuate the injured and bring supplies to those who remain there. Alternatively, the army must carry out those activities itself.

  5. Secure the proper operation of the electricity, water and sewage systems so that they meet the needs of the population.

Participating organizations:

Adalah - The Legal Center For Arab Minority Rights In Israel,
Amnesty International Israel Section,
Bimkom - Planners For Planning Rights,
B’Tselem - The Israeli Information Center For Human Rights In The Occupied Territories, Gisha - Legal Center For Freedom Of Movement,
Hamoked - Center For Defence Of The Individual,
Physicians For Human Rights - Israel Public Committee Against Torture In Israel,
Yesh Din - Volunteers For Human Rights.

http://www.btselem.org/English/Press_Releases/20090114.asp

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

'Going Wild' in Gaza


According to the Independent today, "The massive destruction in Gaza is no accident," writes Ben Lynfield.

And Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, kindly explains why 0ver 900 Palestinians have been killed in the last two weeks, including 325 children.

She said yesterday that Israel was deliberately "going wild" in its use of military force in order to restore its deterrence capability.

"We have proven to Hamas that we have changed the equation. Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing."

'Going wild' is one way to describe what others such as Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights here, here and here , the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Al Haq, Human Rights Watch, War on Want and B'Tselem, are describing as 'reckless' 'disproportionate' and 'indiscriminate'.

The shelling of residential areas, the failure to protect the civilian population, the use of Palestinian families as human shields, impeding as well as the targetting of medical personnel, politicians and police officers, constitute grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention, that is, War Crimes.

Yesterday, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, added his voice to the growing call for an international war crimes investigation.

What did the Prime Minister say to the President?


For all the speculation about the power of the Israel Lobby, the conversation between George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert is a candid insight into perceptions of power, if not their reality also.

The Independent Newspaper carried the story of Olmert's conversation with Bush on page 20 of their early edition today but then edited it out of the later edition.

Here is the version of the disputed conversation taken from today's Guardian

"Israel and US offer differing reports on UN resolution abstention

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert claimed he had called George Bush to override US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

by Ewen MacAskill in Washington guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 13 January 2009

The US and Israel offered conflicting accounts today over alleged Israeli intervention to prevent the US voting for a United Nations ceasefire resolution last week, a move that apparently left the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, humiliated.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, speaking at a meeting in Ashkelon in southern Israel last night, claimed that he had been forced to call George Bush, the US president, to override Rice. According to Olmert, Rice had been planning to vote with the other members of the security council for the resolution. But the resolution was passed with 14 votes for, and one abstention. Olmert, in a speech in Hebrew, is reported to have said:

"When we saw that the secretary of state, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favour of the UN resolution ... I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech. "I said, 'I don't care. I have to talk to him now'. They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, 'You can't vote in favour of this resolution.' He said, 'Listen, I don't know about it, I didn't see it, I'm not familiar with the phrasing.'"

Olmert said: "He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it - a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged."

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said today: "I've seen these press reports. They are inaccurate." Olmert's version coincides with the one offered up by other members of the security council the day after the vote. It is also known that Rice had been planning a press conference before the vote but abruptly cancelled it to take a call from Bush."

Reuter's version of the conversation speaks of Olmert, "Pouring on political bravado in a speech late Monday..." Their article concludes: "Olmert, under police investigation over alleged corruption, resigned as prime minister in September but is serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed after Israel's February 10 parliamentary election."

Enough said.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Gaza: Where are the Peacemakers?

Photograph: Fadi Adwan /Getty Images

by Ali Elhajj 01-08-2009

It has been over a week now. Over 600 and ten Israelis have been killed (seven of them soldiers), and 3,085 have been injured. 25 percent of the dead are non-combatants: women, children, and the old. In the fog of , the only certainty is these numbers will rise.

By now every major organization has issued a position statement on the recent outbreak of , and the pundits have been practicing their craft on the news channels for some time.

At the Christian-run Ahli- hospital in Gaza, the wailing of the sirens is continuous, all the windows have been destroyed, the patients shiver in the winter air, and the hospital’s director is desperate for blankets. Fuel supplies are low, medicines and food are scarce, the equipment is antiquated, the patients are many, and the bombing never stops. It is cold and Gaza is in the dark.

In Sderot, an town not too far from Gaza, the lights are on but they do not extinguish the darkness. A 51-year-old resident of the city recently wrote these words:

People who don’t live in Sderot don’t understand the situation here, just as those who don’t live in Gaza don’t understand their situation. But I know they suffer and I know we suffer as well.

At the end of the day there will be an agreement, so why do we have to go through this process of killing and shedding blood first? Why can’t we stop? Why do we need for them to suffer so terribly, and I have no doubt that they are suffering more than us.

We in Sderot are so sick of this and they must be saying the same thing…

In Sderot, like in other cities in the South, the rockets fall as they have for some time now. The sirens wail at random, and residents are urged to run to their shelters in hopes they will make it in time. Sderot is 1.8 kilometers from Gaza. A rocket can reach Sderot in nine seconds.

Meanwhile, young men and women are on the way to Gaza. They are actors in a stage not of their making, victims of the past. The basest of them take vengeance in their anger, and the compassionate are caught between sympathy and duty.

In Gaza, hatred grows; the bombs cannot extinguish it. The old bury the young, the young watch the old whither, dignity is a memory, and peace but a forgotten shadow. The scale of the destruction and death is beyond imagination.

blames Israel for breaking the cease-fire by sending troops into Gaza on November 4th and for not complying with the conditions of the cease-fire or allowing significant levels of goods and humanitarian aide to flow into Gaza. How long, asks, can they show restraint while Gazans starve in the dark? Cease-fire or no cease-fire, the conditions are the same; what is the difference between a swift death or a slow one?

Israel cannot be asked to live with an organization whose history includes dispatching suicide bombers to kill its citizens. Israel blames for the and points out that that has been firing rockets at civilians.

Around the world, pro-Palestinian and pro- groups echo these arguments louder and louder every day. No one ever wins the rhetorical battles because no one can. It is wrong for an occupying power to starve a population and force it to live in poverty, and it is wrong to fire rockets at civilians forcing them to live in fear. Deep down each side acknowledges its culpability, but cannot show mercy. Both are blind in one eye while the other eye only looks in the mirror to see its own pain. Each side claims it must act because it, after-all, is the victim.

Fear, hatred, death, uncertainty and fanaticism rule the day.

For all these reasons, and more, I beg my brothers and sisters in Christ to undertake a revolution in thought which extends beyond entrenched racial and political dogmas, one that is grounded in the gospel of peace in Christ and one which propels the body of Christ to care for the sick and dying, for the fearful, and for those whom we call friend or enemy.

We must act in compassion to heal the sick and have mercy on those who are suffering–be they or Palestinian, , Christian, or Jew. The very believability of the gospel of Christ is at stake.

The battle for Gaza is ongoing and it will continue after the last round is fired. When Gaza emerges from the rubble, Gazans will remember those who came to them in their time of need. Will it be the representatives of radicalization and hatred that will rebuild Gaza, or will it be the voices of reason and compassion? Simply stated: we cannot afford to abandon Gaza.

We must also not forget Sderot and the cities in the South. For in them, as in Gaza, hatred grows as the rockets fall. We must do everything we can to engender compassion and build bridges of understanding. We must also be there to mourn with those who mourn and care for those in need.

We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of assigning blame, washing our hands of the world, or placing ourselves above it. Nor can we allow ourselves to be held hostage by eschatological positions which offer no respite for those who bury the dead or care for the injured.

Now is the time to plead for peace and , a time to end the madness and call for understanding. We may or may not be successful, but we cannot be silent. Our God was not silent in the face of our inequities, and while God could have judged us, instead he sent his Son to bridge the divide between God and humanity. If then we are created in God’s image and for God’s purpose, can we not then stand in the gap between and Jew and beg for peace?

May God help us make this stand and forgive us if we do not.

portrait-ali-elhajjAli Elhajj is an Christian who came to Christ from a background in 1999. His ministry, The Bethlehem Christmas Project, brings together American, , and Palestinian Christians to deliver Christmas gifts to oprhans, children suffering form post-traumatic stress, and children with special needs in the West Bank.

A Prayer for Gaza



O God our prayer today is more like an inarticulate cry and our hearts ache. We saw a man in Gaza weeping beside his three little dead children - innocent beauty now bloodied in death

A massacre that started on the eve of Holy Innocents Day claims more and more women and children’s lives.

UN schools bombed, where families had sought refuge.

The people of Gaza with nowhere to run.

They are imprisoned under a harsh siege, bombed by the most sophisticated new weapons and then attacked in their own streets and houses.

O God where can they find refuge. No one has listened to their suffering for over 60 years.

O God of the oppressed and suffering we see you in the wounded of Gaza - we hear your cries of pain - we share your tears. May we never be silent in the face of such pain.

O God may world leaders at last hear the cries of the children and the suffering of Gaza.

May the siege be removed. The gates be opened. May they be allowed to have food, water, medicine, human rights, dignity, justice, democracy.

O God hear the cry of Gaza.

May freedom come - may healing come - may hope come.

May they be treated as we would like to be treated.

And we pray for the people of Israel because there will be no peace for them until the occupation ends and the siege is over - no peace for them until justice comes to Palestine.

And we pray that peace will come soon and that each person will recognise the value of the other and Israel and Palestine become a Holy Land once more.

Amen.

Garth Hewitt
Director, Amos Trust
Canon, Jerusalem Cathedral

January 2009, www.amostrust.org

Friday, 9 January 2009

Al-Haq report on Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP

In a damning indictment of the Israeli Government, Al Haq, have published their Legal Brief on Israel's 'Cast Lead' operation in Gaza. They describe Israeli attacks on Gaza as a clear war crime. The lawyers’ seven page forensic examination, comparing the actions of Israel over the last 11 days to their international obligations, clearly shows that Israel is in breach of international law and human rights treaties. Downlaod the Al Haq Report here

1. Introduction

1.1 On 27 December 2008, Israel, the Occupying Power in the OPT (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip) launched Operation Cast Lead, a large-scale aerial offensive in the Gaza Strip. The continuing air strikes have now been followed by Israeli ground troops, which invaded the Gaza Strip on the night of 3 January 2009. Within eleven days, Israeli occupying forces have killed at least 671 Palestinians, 547 of whom were civilians, including 155 children, and injured at least 3,000.

1.2 Israels wilful misinterpretation of international law has led it to conclude that "anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," resulting not only in the aforementioned civilian deaths and injuries, but in the destruction of a wide range of civilian objects, terrorising the civilian population and leaving them with the feeling that there is no safe haven from attack. Simultaneously, Israeli authorities have claimed that the potential harm to civilians is taken into account during the planning and execution of military operations. However, the choice of targeted areas, methods of attack and the number of civilians killed and injured clearly indicate a reckless disregard for civilian life synonymous with intent. Yet, these attacks have met with little or no concrete action by the international community.

2. The facts: Israels attacks on civilians and civilian objects

They [Hamas] don't make a distinction, and neither should we."- Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni

2.1 Israels assumption that anything is a legitimate military target has had devastating consequences on the ground. More than 80% of the 671 Palestinians already killed were civilians (many of whom were killed in direct attacks). Israel has directly targeted and completely or partially destroyed 13 mosques, two schools, one university, numerous government buildings, including different ministries and 40 civil police compounds, a medical storage centre, three money exchange facilities and three chicken farms, all of which Israel alleges were used by Hamas for military purposes. Israels air strikes and ground incursions have to date resulted in the total destruction of at least 300 houses and damage to 3,800 more.

2.2 The attacks during Operation Cast Lead have had a disturbing impact on the already dire health conditions in the Gaza Strip. Despite Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livnis denial of a humanitarian crisis in the area, the situation on the ground is worse than ever before. Gazas borders have remained mostly closed during the attacks, with essential commodities such as basic food stuffs, fuel, electricity, medicine and medical equipment near depletion. Hospitals are attempting to function on only 6-8 hours of electricity per day and are severely overcrowded. Moreover, due to lack of space and medical personnel, hospitals have been forced to turn away the sick, pregnant and lightly wounded in order to attend to those who are critically injured. Regular rooms are being turned into unsanitary operation rooms and yards into morgues. As a result, the whole medical system in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a complete break down.

3. Legal analysis

3.1 As Israel exercises effective control over the Gaza Strip through its dominion over airspace, territorial waters, land borders and the population registry, it remains the Occupying Power. The legal framework governing its actions in relation to the Gaza Strip is therefore international humanitarian and human rights law. The main principles of international humanitarian law applicable to the conduct of the current hostilities shall be briefly illustrated below.

3.2 Distinction: civilians

3.2.1 Contrary to Israels stated policy and demonstrated practice of considering any person or object affiliated in any capacity with the Hamas government and all its wings6 as a legitimate military target, international humanitarian law clearly defines who and what can be legitimately targeted during an attack. The fundamental principle of distinction enshrined in customary and conventional international humanitarian law demands that the parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives, and may only target the latter. Civilians are persons who are not members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict and therefore shall not be made the object of attack, unless and for such time as they take direct part in hostilities.

3.2.2 Among the thousands Palestinian civilians killed and injured are members of the Civil Police and representatives of the political wing of the de facto Hamas government. International humanitarian law holds that members of the Civil Police who are engaged in regular police duties such as ordinary internal law enforcement or traffic regulation are civilians. Separate from both the Hamas Internal Security Forces and the National Security Forces, the Civil Police is comprised of civilian police officers whose primary task, similar to any civilian police force, is the maintenance of civic order within the Gaza Strip. They serve no military function and are therefore not combatants. As such, unless police officers are formally incorporated into the Hamas armed forces and are taking a direct part in hostilities, they are to be afforded civilian protection and may not be targeted. In the event of police incorporation into Hamas armed forces and their direct participation in hostilities, their immunity from attack is suspended only for the duration of each specific act that qualifies as direct participation in hostilities. An example of an attack on the Civil Police is the 27 December 2008 aerial bombardment of the Civil Police compound in Gaza City, which killed 65 out of 70 police officers who were involved in a training course.

3.2.3 Under international humanitarian law, representatives of the political wing of the de facto Hamas government who play no part in commanding or controlling the military wing of Hamas and who do not take direct part in hostilities are civilians and not a legitimate military target. An example of an attack on political representatives of the de facto Hamas government is the 1 January 2008 aerial bombardment of the Jabaliya refugee camp home of Nizar Rayyan, which killed him and 15 members of his family (including 11 of his children), injured other family members and neighbours and destroyed ten adjacent houses.

3.2.4 Attacks on civilians not taking direct part in hostilities that result in deaths constitute wilful killing, a war crime amounting to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This entails the individual criminal responsibility of those Israeli officials who planned, ordered or executed such attacks. The widespread and systematic nature of such attacks during Operation Cast Lead may constitute the crime against humanity of murder.

3.3 Distinction: civilian objects

3.3.1 Article 52 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which is established as customary international law, defines civilian objects as all objects which are not military objectives. Only in the event that civilian objects are used for military purposes, and the destruction of these objects, in the circumstances ruling at the time, makes an effective contribution to military action, and their destruction, capture or neutralisation offers a definite military advantage, may they be a lawful object of attack. In all circumstances, the principle of proportionality in attacks must be observed, and in case of doubt, an object shall be presumed to be civilian. Accordingly, civil police compounds, government buildings, medical storage units and farms must be presumed to be civilian objects in the absence of evidence to the contrary and cannot categorically be considered legitimate military targets. Israels extensive and wanton destruction of civilian property not justified by military necessity is a war crime amounting to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

3.3.2 A characteristic example of an attack on a civilian object is the 6 January 2009 aerial bombardment on the Asma Bint Baker school, a facility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Four days prior to the attack, UNRWA officials provided GPS coordinates to Israeli authorities of 23 UNRWA installations that were to be used as shelters for fleeing civilians. The location of the Asma Bint Baker School was one of the 23 coordinates provided. Three civilians were killed in the attack on the school.

3.4 Proportionality

3.4.1 The principle of distinction must be read in conjunction with the principle of proportionality. In its authoritative study on customary international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross held the latter principle to dictate that launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.

3.4.2 Under the principle of proportionality, when conducting hostilities in an urban area, the combating parties hold an increased duty of diligence to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities. Israels widespread use of heavy artillery, tanks and F-16 fighter jets against civilian population centres in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, typically results in excessive incidental deaths and injuries to civilians and damage to civilian objects in flagrant breach of the principles of proportionality and distinction, and is therefore unlawful under international humanitarian law.

3.4.3 Examples of disproportionate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces include the attack on the house of Hamas political representative Nizar Rayyan in a densely populated neighbourhood in Jabaliya refugee camp. Not only was Rayyan as established above not a legitimate military target, but the attack also resulted in the killing of 15 civilian family members (including 11 children), the complete destruction of ten adjacent houses and damage to several others. On 29 December 2008 in the same neighbourhood, Israeli air strikes targeted the Imad Aqel Mosque killing five sisters aged between four and 17 in their home and completely destroying the Mosque as well as nine other adjacent houses.

3.4.4 The extent of civilian causalities and the systematic and extensive destruction of civilian objects, coupled with the declared intention of Brigadier-General Dan Harel to destroy every single Hamas-affiliated building, reveals a clear intention to disregard the principle of proportionality. As the number of civilian casualties continues to rise dramatically, Israeli justifications for the casualties become legally indefensible.

3.5 Precautions in attack

3.5.1 The principle of precautions in attack, codified in Article 57 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and reflective of customary international humanitarian law, determines that in the conduct of military operations constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects. Each party to a conflict must provide effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, do everything feasible to verify that the objectives to be attacked are neither civilians nor civilian objects and take all
feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimising, incidental loss or civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.12

3.5.2 In contrast to such obligations, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead without warning, at 11:30 am, a time when urban centres across the Gaza Strip are most populated and when children are changing shifts at school.13 Other attacks timed with an obvious expectation of devestating civilian losses include the attack on the Ibrahimi Mosque, in the middle of the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, which was hit during prayer time when it was crowded with worshippers and attacks on some Hamas officials at times when they are surrounded by their family members. Given the location and timing of the vast majority of successive strikes over the past eleven days it is logical to conclude that the attacks have been conducted in expectation of incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The Israeli occupying power has thus failed to spare the civilian population from the effects of the attacks, in blatant violation of international humanitarian law.

4. Israels right to self-defence

4.2 Although Israel claims to be carrying out its attacks in self-defence against Hamas rocket fire, Israel as the Occupying Power, is the initial aggressor and Operation Cast Lead is not an isolated example of Israels practices during the 42 years of its occupation of the OPT. Military raids in urban areas resulting in similar injury and killing of civilians have been a sadly recurrent feature of the occupation. These raids along with the upholding of sanctions on the supply of essential utilities and the prolonged closure of the border crossings amount to collective punishment and unlawful reprisals under international humanitarian law and do not constitute legitimate means of self-defence.

4.3 Al-Haq acknowledges that rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, against civilian population centres within Israel are in violation of international humanitarian law. However, while Israel has the right and duty to protect its civilian population from such attacks, any response to Palestinian rocket attacks must respect the fundamental international humanitarian law principles of military necessity, proportionality and distinction. The conduct of hostilities during Operation Cast Lead can under no circumstances be considered to be in accordance with these principles.

5. Legal responsibilities of third parties

5.1 Israels ongoing siege of and attack on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip gives rise to legal responsibilities of third parties. The UN Security Council for example, must transcend the political gridlock that has characterised its engagement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by adopting concrete collective measures, such as the imposition of sanctions, in order to ensure Israels compliance with its obligations under international humanitarian and human
rights law.

5.2 In event of the Security Councils continued failure to take decisive action, the UN General Assembly, in accordance with the UN Charter, is must convene an emergency session under General Assembly Resolution 377, Uniting for Peace, with a view towards the adoption of collective measures against Israel, on the basis that its ongoing attacks against the Gaza Strip constitute a threat to international peace and security.

5.3 On the basis of the obligation to ensure respect for the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, as stipulated in their Common Article 1, the High Contracting Parties must take appropriate measures to compel Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law.

5.4 As per Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the High Contracting Parties further have a responsibility to effectively search for and bring before their courts persons committing, or ordering to be committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, such as the wilful killing of civilians and the extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.

5.5 European Union (EU) institutions and member states should make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including through the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions.

6. Concluding remarks

6.1 During "Operation Cast Lead" Israel has not only publicly expressed but also effectively demonstrated its unwillingness to distinguish between civilians and combatants on the one hand and between civilian objects and military objectives on the other. Acting upon a legally false claim that anything allegedly affiliated with Hamas be it a home, school, mosque or a chicken farm "is a legitimate military target," Israel attempts to create a legal fa├žade for its unlawful attacks on the Gaza Strip. Further, by disguising its offensive in the form of claimed self defence, Israel seeks to legitimise the killing of almost 700 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians (including many children), and the injury of more than 3,000, in addition to the destruction of hundreds of homes and the damage of thousands.

6.2 This cynical manipulation of the letter and spirit of international law has made way for an international discourse which risks reinterpreting and therefore compromising the most fundamental principles of international law for the sake of political interests. This in turn has resulted in the continuing failure of the international community, including the High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Conventions, the UN Security Council and General Assembly and the EU to effectively engage their own clearly defined legal obligations to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and amounts to tacit acquiescence to Israel's calculated and systematic disregard for international humanitarian law.

6.3 The cost of international inaction is being born by a terrorised Palestinian civilian population who has no safe haven. It is therefore necessary for the international community to reaffirm its commitment to the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and to create the necessary political will to take effective measures against those who ridicule and blatantly violate them.

6.4 Any genuine international intervention that aims at achieving a just and durable solution to the conflict must above all acknowledge international law as the basis of any agreement and address the root cause of the conflict, the Israeli occupation.

© Al-Haq, January 2009

Download the Al Haq report Legal Aspects of Israel’s Attacks on the Gaza Strip during “Operation Cast Lead”

Other Reports:
About Al-Haq
Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank. Established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the organisation has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Al-Haq documents violations of the individual and collective rights of Palestinians in the OPT, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator, and seeks to end such breaches by way of advocacy before national and international mechanisms and by holding the violators accountable. The organisation conducts research; prepares reports, studies and interventions on breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law in the OPT; and undertakes advocacy before local, regional and international bodies. Al-Haq also cooperates with Palestinian civil society organisations and governmental institutions in order to ensure that international human rights standards are reflected in Palestinian law and policies. The organisation has a specialised international law library for the use of its staff and the local community.

Al-Haq is the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists - Geneva, and is a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO).

Saturday 4th April Update: BBC Report: UN Appoints Gaza War-crimes Team

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Geneva Conventions: the core of international humanitarian law.

Photograph: Abid Katib/Getty Images

The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war). Links to selected resources.

The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are part of international humanitarian law – a whole system of legal safeguards that cover the way wars may be fought and the protection of individuals.

They specifically protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, chaplains, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).

The Conventions and their Protocols call for measures to be taken to prevent (or put an end to) what are known as "grave breaches"; those responsible for breaches must be punished.

The Geneva Conventions have been acceded to by 194 States and enjoy universal acceptance.

International Red Cross

The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols

The first Geneva Convention of 1864 dealt exclusively with care for wounded soldiers; the law was later adapted to cover warfare at sea and prisoners of war.

In 1949 the Conventions were revised and expanded:
1st Convention - wounded soldiers on the battlefield
2nd Convention - wounded and shipwrecked at sea
3rd Convention - prisoners of war
4th Convention - civilians under enemy control

In 1977 two Additional Protocols were added:
1st Protocol - international conflicts
2nd Protocol - non-international conflicts

In 2005 Additional Protocol III was adopted:
3rd Protocol - additional distinctive emblem

The essential rules
Humanitarian law: your questions answered
The Geneva Conventions and the emblems
Who is bound by the Geneva Conventions?
Humanitarian law and human rights
How the founding of the ICRC led to the first Geneva Convention

Attack against Red Cross coordinator in Gaza, 6.1.09

Testimony of Muhammad Ramadan of the ICRC, 7.1.09:

Yesterday at 13:00 the driver and I set out to transfer urgent medical supplies by ICRC truck to Khan Younis. Our exit was pre-coordinated with the Israeli army and the truck is clearly marked with the ICRC symbols. When we reached netzarim junction [on the main north-south road in Gaza – PHR-Israel], a tank shot at us from its machine gun. I could see the tank clearly. The bullets hit the ground 15 meteres away from us. Afterwards we were also shot at from the air. We back up some 100 meters and then the tank shot again. We went back to the office and after an hour we set out again, but we were shot at again in the Netzarim area. In the end we didn't transfer the medical supplies. It should be noted that this axis has been closed since the start of the operation and only today, 7.1.09, we can travel through them for the first time, although we have been clarifying the need for access since the start of the operation

Source: Physicians for Human Rights Israel

OVER 100 UK PARLIAMENTARIANS CALL FOR END TO SLAUGHTER IN GAZA


Over 100 UK Parliamentarians from different parties have so far signed a statement demanding an end to the slaughter in Gaza. The statement calls for an immediate ceasefire, an embargo on the supply of military equipment to both sides and for urgent intervention by the international community to stop the humanitarian catastrophe which is unfolding.

Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, has said:

‘The continuing slaughter in Gaza is an outrage. The international community has to make clear that respecting its calls for a ceasefire is not simply an optional extra for those launching attacks on either side. International humanitarian law must be upheld. That means protecting civilians from military attack. Common humanity also demands that food, medicines and other essential supplies must be allowed to get through to the one and a half million people who are under siege.’

The statement – below – was first published in The Guardian on 31 December 2008. It has now (as at 16:00 GMT on 06 January 2009) been signed by 106 Parliamentarians: 97 Members of Parliament and 9 Members of the House of Lords.

STOP THE SLAUGHTER IN GAZA

Israel's continuing massive military strikes on Gaza are an outrage that the international community must not allow to continue. Palestinian rocket attacks which traumatise the lives of communities in Southern Israel are also utterly unacceptable. Both sides must cease fire.

Israel's actions are disproportionate and counter productive to achieving either security for the people of Israel or peace in the Middle East. Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have warned that "targeting of civilians and of medical facilities is a breach of international humanitarian law. The targets chosen by the Israeli military include also clearly civilian installations."

Gaza is one of the poorest and most densely populated places on earth. For the last two years, the blockade and previous Israeli strikes had already disrupted electricity supplies and access to clean water. Even before the current attack, Gaza's health system was near collapse. Hospitals are short of medicines, blood and essential equipment. Only half of Gaza's 58 ambulances are functioning.

We call on the international community, and especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to intervene to stop the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. We call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties and for an embargo on the supply of military equipment to both sides. The international community must also assert unambiguously that there is no military route to peace in the Middle East and redouble its efforts to create a secure and independent state of Palestine alongside a secure and independent Israel.

Signatories:

HOUSE OF COMMONS: Nick Ainger, Danny Alexander, John Austin, Norman Baker, Anne Begg, Roger Berry, Clive Betts, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Peter Bottomley, Colin Breed, Lyn Brown, Karen Buck, Richard Burden, Lorely Burt, Alistair Carmichael, David Chaytor, Katy Clark, David Clelland, Harry Cohen, Michael Connarty, Derek Conway, Frank Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Ann Cryer, Jim Devine, Jim Dobbin, Frank Dobson, Jim Dowd, David Drew, Mark Durkan, Clive Efford, Natascha Engel, Paul Flynn, Hywel Francis, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Roger Godsiff, Nia Griffith, Nick Harvey, John Hemming, David Heyes, Simon Hughes, Brian Iddon, Eric Illsley, Lynne Jones, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Sally Keeble, Peter Kilfoyle, Susan Kramer, Norman Lamb, Mark Lazarowicz, John Leech, David Lepper, Tom Levitt, Martin Linton, Tony Lloyd, Andy Love, Judy Mallaber, Rob Marris, Chris McCafferty, John McDonnell, Anne Moffat, Madeleine Moon, Michael Moore, Doug Naysmith, Edward O'Hara, Nick Palmer, Andrew Pelling, Steve Pound, Ken Purchase, Andy Reed, Alan Reid, Linda Riordan, Martin Salter, Mohammad Sarwar, Alison Seabeck, Virendra Sharma, Jim Sheridan, Clare Short, Marsha Singh, Andy Slaughter, Andrew Smith, Angela C Smith, Sir Peter Soulsby, Phyllis Starkey, Jo Swinson, Ian Taylor, David Taylor, Sarah Teather, Robert Walter, Steve Webb, Mike Weir, Alan Whitehead, Stephen Williams, Hywel Williams, Derek Wyatt, Tim Yeo.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Bishop of Winchester, Lord Cope of Berkeley, Lord Luce, The Right Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, Lord Hylton, Lord Wright of Richmond, Baroness Northover, Baroness Tonge, Lord Sheikh of Cornhill.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Oliver Barclay, CEEC and lessons from Evangelical history

John Richardson has posted this on his blog

"The Church of England Newspaper has published today a letter from Oliver Barclay, author of a history of English Evangelicalism, in response to an earlier article by Colin Craston, a veteran of the first NEAC Conference, deeply critical of Conservative (what Barclay prefers to call 'Classical') Evangelicals. I reproduce it below, with apologies to the CEN for nicking it, but with a link where you can subscribe to the online edition for £15 per annum here.

I think the letter neatly sums up our problems as well as being a useful bit of history.

Sir, Colin Craston (December 12) does not go back far enough in his history of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC). It grew out of a situation in which evangelicals were sharply divided between the Conservative Evangelical and Liberal Evangelical wings of the evangelical movement. The liberals were numerically dominant and had their own literature and as an alternative to Keswick, their own convention at Cromer, etc. There were very few conservatives (Classical Evangelicals is a better term than conservative) in the precursor to Synod or other influential positions and varying degrees of liberal views were held by the many who thought of themselves as evangelicals. Many liberal evangelicals were warmly devotional and godly people who had been brought up in a more classical tradition. I knew some of the leaders personally from 1938.

The CEEC grew from a small private committee set by UCCF (then IVF). I was secretary and Alan Stibbs and other conservatives formed the group to try to develop a strategy to recover lost ground for the Classical tradition. When it was decided to make it a public body it separated from the interdenominational IVF and I withdrew. John Stott and Dick Lucas took over the leadership at first. There was however, before long a change of policy and in an attempt to include all those who liked to be called evangelical, they drew in a number of liberals, to the dismay of Alan Stibbs and his co-workers.

Today there is a new sizeable liberal evangelicalism, though it rarely likes the name and includes many who do not want to draw too much of a distinction between evangelical teaching and the rest of the Church of England. The standing ovation for a speech by Archbishop Runcie at NEAC showed just how things had developed. If this is the present situation it is going to be extremely difficult and probably impossible to pull all evangelicals together. If CEEC becomes another liberal evangelical organization it should look back and see what happened to the liberal evangelicalism of the 1930-50 period, when it virtually disappeared for lack of doctrinal coherence.

It was left to others to recover the classical witness with new leaders and new organizations.

Oliver Barclay
Leicester


Monday, 5 January 2009

Christian Zionism: Christian Bookshops Directory Book of the Month

Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

A review by Phil Groom

Israel’s crimes against humanity
must always be seen against the backdrop of the equally terrible crimes of humanity against Israel. But does this make those crimes — its ongoing abuse of the Palestinians and, as I revisit this review at the beginning of 2009, its current assault on the Gaza Strip — any less offensive? Personally, I think not: I originally wrote this review for Evangelical Quarterly in August 2006, during Israel’s war of vengeance against Hezbollah in Lebanon. More than two years later, have any lessons been learned? Has anything changed? It seems not. Apart from these introductory paragraphs, then, this review also remains unchanged, and Sizer’s book remains as relevant and necessary today as it was when originally published.

James warns us (James 3:1) that those who teach will be judged all the more harshly; and similarly, those who represent God to the world will surely be held to even greater account than those who do not know him. This, if it applies to any nation, must surely apply to Israel if they are indeed God’s chosen people.

Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s crimes not withstanding, the State of Israel’s ongoing abuse of the Palestinian people and its neighbours in Lebanon is without a shadow of doubt both a crime against humanity and an offence against God. And the tendency of many Christians to give uncritical support — or even open endorsement — to Israel’s apartheid and wholly disproportionate policies is an aberration that compounds that offence.

If you’re a Christian Zionist you’ll find those opening paragraphs extremely troubling. Are we not, as Christians, required to support the State of Israel? Are not the Jews God’s chosen people? Surely those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3) — and aren’t statements like these anti-semitic anyway?

Yet as I read this book and observe the current situation it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion. I was brought up in a Brethren assembly, taught to read the Bible from within a dispensationalist framework, and although (as far as I remember) the term “Christian Zionist” was never used, its essence informed my thinking. It took a trip to Israel and time spent with Palestinian Christians, seeing the oppression first-hand, to bring home to me how distorted my thinking was.

Sizer’s experience, it seems, has been similar, describing himself in his introduction as a young Christian ‘devouring Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and hearing in person his lectures on eschatology’, then, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — ironically, organised by some ‘Christian Zionist friends’ — experiencing a ‘radical change in perspective.’ (p.9-10).

Many Christians will never have an opportunity to visit Israel in person, but Sizer has done a magnificent job in this book, presenting us with a comprehensive overview of Christian Zionism’s variant streams, historical developments and theologies which allows anyone willing to approach the subject with an open mind to make their own assessment. This is supported by a number of helpful charts comparing, for example, the historical development of Christian Zionism since 1800 (p.105) and the different types of Christian Zionism (p.256-257). His analysis is careful, detailed and meticulous, a distillation of his doctoral thesis, which takes his readers through the movement’s history (chapter 1), examining its theological emphases (chapter 2) and exposing its political implications (chapter 3) to finally emerge (chapter 4) with “Biblical Zionism: a covenantal alternative”, an approach that does justice to both the old covenant under Abraham and the new covenant under Christ and offers hope to Jew and Palestinian alike, eschewing violence and leaving no room for anti-semitism.

Each chapter is broken down into manageable subsections and ends with a concise summary of the arguments presented therein, allowing even an impatient reader to benefit and a more patient reader time to pause and take stock.

Sizer’s final conclusions are — for this reader at least — inescapable:

…the choice is between two theologies: one based primarily on the shadows of the old covenant; the other on the reality of the new covenant. In identifying with the former, Christian Zionism is an exclusive theology that focuses on the Jews in the land rather than an inclusive theology that centres on Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. It consequently provides a theological endorsement for racial segregation, apartheid and war. This is diametrically opposed to the inclusive theology of justice, peace and reconciliation which lie at the heart of the new covenant. (p.260).

A glossary of terms, appendix (‘Challenging Christian Zionism’, a statement from Sabeel, the Palestinian Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem), eleven pages of bibliography and three indices (people, subjects and biblical references) round the book off, whilst footnotes throughout, rather than endnotes, help to keep the entire volume as reader-friendly as possible. This is a book that deserves the widest possible readership. No one who has a concern for the Middle East should ignore the issues raised; to do so is — returning to Sizer’s introduction — ‘nothing less than to perpetuate the evil of the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who walked by on the other side.’ (p.13).

The time for silence is over: those who are Israel’s true friends must speak out against Israel’s behaviour before this nation pushes itself over the brink and into Armageddon.

Phil Groom, January 2009

Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Christians of Gaza

Photograph: Musa Al-shaer/AFP/Getty Images

A little known fact is the presence of a small but significant Christian Palestinian presence in Gaza. Gerald Butt wrote about them in Life at the Crossroads: History of Gaza. Read a review here.

Carl Moeller of Open Doors has just sent this news and prayer update on their plight.

"As an estimated 10,000 Israeli ground troops invaded Gaza today, the small community of Christians are drawing strength from their faith in God. Last week’s attacks left over 400 dead and 2,000 injured and the numbers are expected to dramatically increase.

According to reliable reports, the Gaza Baptist Church building was still standing this morning but has had some of its windows shattered by the bombings. Some Christian families left Gaza for Bethlehem over the holidays and are now separated from their loved ones with the border sealed. Many of the hospitals, already lacking basic medicines and medical equipment, are overwhelmed with the casualties and often are without power.

This is serious trouble for Christians in Gaza. Even before the recent end to the ceasefire (December 19) and the bombings, the estimated 3,000 Christians in Gaza have been living in fear from threats from Islamic militants.

Please join me in prayer for these brave Christians in Gaza in the wake of this new outbreak of violence. Pray that the war between Israel and Palestine is shorter and less devastating than what military and political speculators around the world are predicting. Pray that Christian families will be reunited. Pray that the Gaza Baptist Church building will be spared from the bombs.

Earlier this year one believer in Gaza stated: “Seventy percent of the Christians want to leave Gaza because they are very afraid. But we love Gaza. It’s our country, we have roots here, our homes are here. We will not know anyone if we go somewhere else.”

Pray that the seeds Brother Andrew sowed with Hamas and other prominent militant groups and the Gazan Christians sowed throughout the years when the Palestinian Bible Society actively shared God’s love with Muslim friends and neighbors will bear fruit. May their offerings of Christ’s love result in peace and God’s glory. Please check our website at http://www.opendoorsusa.org/ for updates.

In Christ our hope,

Carl Moeller

Dr. Carl A. Moeller
Open Doors USA President/CEO



Read John McArthy If it were your home, what hope restraint?

and Ilan Pappe Israel's Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza

The Narrow Gate of Justice: Sabeel Statement
Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches

Pirates of the Mediterranean: Gaza Update


More photos of Gaza

Saturday, 3 January 2009

What has happened to Mohammed?

Is there a conspiracy to keep ‘Mohammed’ out of the most popular name lists? Cranmer posted this piece today.

For the last 14 years Jack has been the most popular boys' name in the land. But in multicultural Britain children named after the Muslim prophet Mohammed come a close second. Back in 2007, The Times observed that Muhammad was the second most-popular name chosen for boys in the UK. And they prophesied, along with The Daily Mail, that 2008 would see it hit the Number One slot. (The Evening Standard also predicted Mohammed would be No. 1 in 2008)

So where is it?

According to The Guardian, and The Times, Jack remained the most popular name for a boy in 2008, and Muhammed appears absolutely nowhere. The Daily Telegraph has also expunged the name, despite prophesying along with everybody else that it would overtake Jack in 2008.

And all the ad-hoc lists compiled by private companies also appear to have eradicated all mention of Mohammed, whether spelt with a ‘u’, or an ‘o’, two ‘m’s or one. And the website nobly called ‘Innocent English’ has also cleansed its lists of the Islamic Prophet.

Even when one takes into account that there are at least 14 different spellings of the name – all pronounced the same – it is utterly baffling that the name now appears nowhere. The main two, Mohammed and Muhammad (a non-Arab Muslim would adopt the name ending in -ed while an Arab Muslim would adopt the -ad ending) are complemented by Mohammad, Muhammed, Mohamed, Mohamad, Mahammed, Mohammod, Mahamed, Muhammod, Muhamad, Mohmmed, Mohamud and Mohammud. And these are augmented still by the much less-common Mehmet or Mohemet.

The spelling ‘Muhammad’ (which means ‘one who is praiseworthy’), like all transliterations, comes from replacing the Arabic script with what is deemed its closest Latin equivalent. It is well known that Muslim parents like to have something that shows a link with their religion or with their Prophet. Parents who name their son Mohammed believe that the name has an effect on their personality and future characteristics. They are saying that this boy will be of good character.

At the last census, Muslims accounted for 3 per cent of the British population - about 1.5 million people. However, immigration (legal and illegal) is now believed to have swelled this to 3 million. The Muslim birthrate is roughly three times higher than the non-Muslim one. Statistics from the ONS show that Muslim households are larger than those of other religions. The average size of a Muslim household is 3.8 people while a third contained more than five people. It is therefore unsurprising that ‘Muhammed’ entered the Top 30 names in 2000, reached Number 17 in 2007 (an increase of 12 per cent), and its rise up the league tables since has been driven by the growing number of young Muslims having families.

But have they ceased? Read the answer and the rest of Cranmer's article here

See also Richard Batholomew's blog Clarion Fund Promotes “Islam” Doll Hysteria

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Narrow Gate of Justice

Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, as the children of Gaza were about to leave their schools to return home, the Israeli air force carried a massive air attack against the people of Gaza.

In less than 4 hours, over 150 people were killed and 200 injured – men, women, and children. By the end of the fourth day, over 390 Palestinians were killed and almost 2,000 injured. On the Israeli side, 4 were killed and no statistics are available on the number of injured.

FACTS ABOUT THE GAZA STRIP:

Population: 1.5 million. 75% of them are refugees. 45% of them are under 14 years.

Area: 360 sq km, 139 sq miles. Population density: 4,167 people/sq mile (The highest in the world.)

Economics: 80% of Gazan households live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than $3 per person a day. 80% of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.

The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, similar to that of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, started with the 1967 June war. In September 2005, the Israeli army pulled out of Gaza and removed its illegal settlements. However, the illegal Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip did not come to an end. Israel maintained its tight control over Gaza’s borders (air, land, and sea). To make things even worse, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza in June 2007, thus tightening its border restrictions and causing the humanitarian conditions to deteriorate further. Under the brutal siege, every aspect of the lives of the people of Gaza was controlled. They were totally dependent on Israel for fuel, electricity, cooking gas, medical supplies, food supplies (even flour), building material, etc. Israel made sure that the Palestinians would remain alive at barely the survival and basic subsistence level.

On November 14, 2008, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon issued a statement that said, “The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately.”

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER:

FIRST: A word about tahdi’a (the period of calm or truce). It is important to note that among the terms of tahdi’a was the understanding that Israel would lift the siege of the Gaza Strip, and gradually extend the truce to the West Bank. This Israel did not do. It only partially lifted the siege and allowed a trickle of vital commodities into Gaza which kept the people at the level of mere survival. Israel’s raids into the West Bank continued on a daily basis and scores of Palestinians were arrested or assassinated.The International Herald Tribune reported on December 19, 2008 that it was Hamas’ understanding that after the tahdi’a Israel would open the crossings and allow the transfer of goods that have been banned since the siege was imposed. There was never a return to the 500 – 600 truckloads of goods shipments that used to go into the Gaza Strip before the siege. “The number of trucks increased to around 90 from around 70.” The facts and figures tell the real story. Sadly, however, many western leaders have shut their ears, eyes, and mouths against the cry of the oppressed and they fell into the deceptive snares of Israel. Most of the world judges Israel by what it says and not by what it does; while they close their ears to the comprehensive and workable 2002 Peace Initiative adopted by all the Arab leaders including the Palestinians. Even Hamas has agreed to a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders as expressed to President Carter on his latest visit to Syria.

SECOND: So long as Israel holds the Palestinians in general and the Gazans in particular under occupation, they (the Palestinians) have the right, according to international law, to resist the “seemingly never ending” belligerent occupation and struggle for their liberation. Israel, therefore, cannot demand from the international community sympathy and political support and from the Palestinians calm and security, while it maintains its inhuman and illegal occupation. It is only when Israel ends its occupation that it can have a legitimate right to defend its borders. Israel stands in violation of international law and is the aggressor due to its belligerent occupation.

THIRD: The Arab leaders and governments can do more for peace. Many people accuse them of a conspiracy of silence. Most of the Arab people are ashamed of the positions of their governments because they have not used their resources collectively to end the occupation. Sabeel is not talking about the use of force although many of our Arab people do. We believe that the Arab governments could have contributed much more towards a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict through nonviolent means. Tragically, this did not happen.

FOURTH: Although Sabeel wishes that Hamas and other Palestinian factions had chosen a nonviolent way to resist the Israeli siege, we feel that the disproportionate use of military force against the Gaza Strip and the number of casualties that it produced must be strongly condemned. It is a shame that once again many western leaders have failed to see the deeper issues that are involved. They chose to stand with the occupier rather than with the occupied, with the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and with the powerful rather than with the weak. It is important to continue the resistance against the belligerent occupation. But we call on our Palestinian people to abandon the armed struggle and to choose a more potent and effective way – the way of nonviolence. We can do it and we can win. The Palestinians are capable of setting an example for the rest of the world. This is what we must do; and this is what can restore to us our human pride and dignity. In fact, we must look to a world where wars, and weapons of violence and destruction would be banned and where oppressed nations would choose the higher moral ground and resist the evil of belligerent occupations by nonviolent means. We hope for a world where a reformed United Nations would never be held hostage by powerful nations, but would enjoy the freedom to establish justice for the oppressed of the world.

FIFTH: We believe that the real message of the Palestinians to the world is a genuine cry for freedom and liberation. The Palestinians did not initiate the violence. The prolonged illegal Israeli occupation is the real cause for the violence in our area. Israel has shut the door on justice. The only way that can guarantee a lasting resolution of the conflict is for the United States’ new administration to dare and open the door of justice. We believe that it is the narrow gate of which Jesus Christ spoke. It is the gate that leads to a life of peace and security.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

This is the narrow gate of justice. This is the basis of international law. The way of military domination, occupation, violence, and wars is the wide gate that leads to destruction; while the gate that seems narrow and hard is the one that leads to justice, peace and security for both sides. We have tried the wide gate and it has only brought us destruction. It is high time to try the narrow gate of justice so that we might find life.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center Jerusalem
December 31, 2008

www.sabeel.org

More photos of Gaza

And read John McArthy's excellent piece from the Independent "If it were your home, what hope restraint?" and
Ilan Pappe's Israel's Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza

Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem On the current devastating situation in Gaza

Photograph: Adel Hana/AP

We, the Patriarchs, Bishops and the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem, follow with deep concern, regret, and shock the war currently raging in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent destruction, murder and bloodshed, especially at a time when we celebrate Christmas, the birth of the King of love and peace. As we express our deep sorrow at the renewed cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and the continued absence of peace in our Holy Land, we denounce the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and all forms of violence and killings from all parties. We believe that the continuation of this bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility - and thus continued confrontation between the two peoples.

Accordingly, we call upon all officials of both parties to the conflict to return to their senses and refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy, and urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and non-violent means.

We also call upon the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and intervene immediately and actively stop the bloodshed and end all forms of confrontation; to work hard and strong to put an end to the current confrontation and remove the causes of conflict between the two peoples; and to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a just and comprehensive solution based on international resolutions.

To the various Palestinian factions we say: It is time to end your division and settle your differences. We call on all factions at this particular time to put the interests of the Palestinian people above personal and factional interests and to move immediately toward national comprehensive reconciliation and use all non-violent means to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

Finally, we raise our prayers to the Child in the manger to inspire the authorities and decision makers on both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, for immediate action to end the current tragic situation in the Gaza Strip. We pray for the victims, the wounded and the broken-hearted. May the Lord God Almighty grant all those who have lost loved ones consolation and patience. We pray for all those living in panic and fear, that God may bless them with calm, tranquility and true peace.

We call on all to observe next Sunday, January 4, as a day for justice and peace in the land of peace.

+ Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+ Patriarch Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarchate.
+ Patriarch Torkom II, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate.
Fr. Pier Battista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custody of the Holy Land
+ Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Abune Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+ Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayyah, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate.
+ Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East.
+ Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan & the Holy Land.
+ Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+ Bishop Youssef Zre'i, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate.
Fr. Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

More photos of Gaza

Pirates of the Mediterranean: Gaza Update

Photograph: Abid Katib/Getty Images

The Rev. Alex Awad wrote this moving reflection on Gaza on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2008

"One hundred tons of bombs are Israel ’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza , Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year. These “gifts” that were showered from US-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives – among them scores of children. Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets. However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza , Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the people of Gaza , both Muslims and Christians. The majority of the people of Gaza are not Hamas militants. They are people like you and I who long to live in peace day in and day out. Regretfully, everyone in the Gaza Strip--men, women, children, civilians and fighters alike—is now feeling the horrible impact and devastation caused by the newest and deadliest Israeli incursion over the Strip in many years.

There is no doubt that the Qassam rockets launched against the western Negev and Ashkelon by Islamic militants linked to Hamas cause great pain and anxiety for many Israelis. Most people agree that Israel , like any other country, has the right to defend itself from outside attacks. However in this unequal conflict between Israel and Hamas , Israel , as usual, has overdone it. When it comes to dealing with its enemies, Israel has a pattern of being extreme. “An eye for an eye” does not satisfy. It has to be more like one hundred eyes for one eye and one hundred teeth for one tooth. When the Israelis attacked Lebanon in June 2006, they sprayed the country with millions of cluster bombs (which are internationally banned) and these bombs continue to kill innocent people even today. What troubles me most in this current war is that most of the victims of this Israeli incursion on Gaza are average people-men, women and children--who are struggling to just to survive under the extreme and harsh conditions that the Israeli siege has created. For 40 years the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli occupation and during the last few years, although the Israelis redeployed their troops from Gaza , they never withdrew the symbols of their dominance and occupation. They continue to control the borders, which mean controlling food, medicine, fuel and goods going in and out of the Strip. In essence, they have turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.

If the Israeli leaders assume that they can assure the security of their citizens by the might and the power of their superior army and air force, they are mistaken. The outrage caused among the peoples in the Arab and Islamic world by these horrible attacks will most likely blow dark clouds over the skies of Israel or elsewhere in the world.

Israel should learn to negotiate with its neighbors in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means implementing UN resolutions, ending the occupation of the West Bank , opening the borders of the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world and stopping military incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rise of Hamas and militancy in Gaza is directly related to a vacuum that Israel and the United States have created by dragging their feet in never-ending and fruitless peace negotiations with moderate Palestinians. As long as Israel continues to place obstacles on the path of the peace process and as long as the US continues to allow it to do so, we can expect new outbursts of violence in the Middle East that will cause more horrors and waste more lives on both sides of the political divide.

The Israelis have the right to live in peace and security and so do the people of Gaza . I call on you, friends, to pray for the civilians on both sides who are caught in this nightmare. In addition to praying, let us protest these lethal bombs with a barrage of our own letters to our elected leaders calling for an end to this human tragedy."

The Revd Alex Awad is Dean of Students, at Bethlehem Bible College. He is also pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church. He is the author of Palestinian Memories: The story of a Palestinian mother and her people (Bethlehem Bible College)

For more information on the situation in Gaza see:

If it were your home, what hope restraint? John McArthy
Israel's Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza
Ilan Pappe
The Truth about those Hamas Rockets by Denis Rahkonen
Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony by Robert Fisk
Israel rejects Gaza truce calls: BBC News
Gaza aid boat rammed by Israel: BBC News
CNN Video of Free Gaza boat rammed by Israeli military
Israel ordered to allow journalists into Gaza: Independent
The bombing of the Islamic University Gaza by Jimmy Johnson
Stop the Killing in Gaza: UNWRA Press Release
Civilians must be protected in Gaza: Amnesty International
Refusal of Israel to allow humanitarian workers and journals into Gaza: Amnesty International

See also:
More photos of Gaza
Free Gaza Campaign
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA)