Julie Webb-Pullman reports

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Gaza civilians demand action from the ICC

Palestinian victims today urged the Prosecutor of the ICC to move her preliminary examination of Palestine into a full investigation, with a complaint drafted by 40 lawyers from the Gaza Bar representing some 50 Palestinian trade unions, associations and civil society organizations plus 448 individual victims. The action was filed with the ICC by Maître Gilles Devers.

Palestinians file lawsuit against Israel at ICC

The procedure concerns three crimes:
– the blockade of Gaza
– the Israeli aggression in the summer of 2014
– the Israeli settlement of Palestine.

At a press conference in The Hague prior to submitting the complaint to the ICC, Mr Devers said that it was time for prosecutor to move the case forward.

“It is two years since Palestine has been under preliminary examination,” he said. “In Gaza, we think two years is too long.”

At a simultaneous press conference in Gaza attended by the lawyers and complainants, Basman AlAshi, Chief Executive of Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital said there is a wealth of evidence available to the Prosecutor.

“All the prosecutor of the ICC needs to open a full investigation is that there is a reasonable basis for believing that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed. The destruction of Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, a protected place under the Geneva Convention, provides that basis. So do the attacks on Al Aqsa, Durrah and Beit Hanoun Hospitals.”

Dr Mariam Abu Daqqa described the treatment of women prisoners in Israeli detention, from being arbitrarily detained to torture, being deprived of contact with their children, and appalling living conditions. She also noted the huge number of child prisoners, and the failure of Israeli authorities to accord them even the most minimum standards of treatment demanded by international conventions.

Lawyer Mahmoud Afana emphasised the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which breaches several aspects of international law, such as the right to self-determination, as well as many of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Afana described the ten-year siege of Gaza as collective punishment which constitutes “… a genocidal humanitarian crisis happening in full view of the world.”

Rana Shubeir, speaking on behalf of civil society and young people, said that they are sick of living a life of fear:
fear of being denied travel for study or medical treatment, fear of another aggression, fear of never finding a job in “this black hole of deprivation and suffering.”

“We only want to enjoy the basic human rights which are guaranteed under international and humanitarian law. We want to live knowing that the future of our children will be as bright as their innocent smiles. The only way this can be achieved is through the application of justice – and that is all we ask from the ICC – apply the rules, and open a full investigation into Palestine,” she said.

Gilles Devers emphasised that this action is just the beginning of a long struggle, noting they are well-organized and determined.

He said the group was also hoping to persuade the ICC to open a full investigation “as a matter of urgency” into the situation in East Jerusalem, where Israeli authorities are imposing severe restrictions on and around Al Aqsa Mosque, and violently attacking Palestinians protesting their repressive actions against the third most holy site in islam.

“Justice is the response to violence. We call for the strengthening of this legal action. This action must be intensified. Our strength is the determination of the Palestinian people to defend their rights.”

Wondering when the war will start….

Dead bodies stacked on the floor (400 x 266)

Dead bodies stacked in a refrigerated truck in 2014

This morning I woke to news that three Palestinians had been killed at Aqsa Mosque after allegedly shooting two Israeli police officers dead.

The Israeli occupation immediately locked down the Mosque, preventing worshippers from praying the Jumah prayer there, blocked all entrances, and set up checkpoints at the entrance to the Old City.

Closing the mosque, which is supposedly under the protection of Jordanian King Abdullah, is a blatant provocation, unheard of since 1967.

The closure, that is – provocations are a daily occurrence.

It brings to mind June 2014, when the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli settlers led to a widespread and violent crackdown in the West Bank, escalating in severity until Palestinians eventually responded. The 50 days of military horror that followed in Gaza killed hundreds of women and children, in an extended series of war crimes and crimes against humanity that remain unpunished to this day.

It is hard to see what worse the Israeli occupation could subject Palestinians to – administrative detention that sees hundreds of  women and kids jailed with no charge, along with members of parliament, youth – in fact, anyone who happens to be Palestinian… Beating of Palestinians daily, under any pretext, or none…. Shooting of peaceful demonstrators…. Demolition of the homes of family-members of ‘convicted killers’ (while the families of convicted Israeli killer settlers suffer no such retribution) or anyone whose house an Israeli wants…. Burning of babies, like Ali Dawabsheh…Burning of teenagers like Mohammed Abu Khdeir… Torturing to death innocent detainees, like Arafat Jaradat – and scores more just like him….

But I am sure they will find something even more horrific to visit upon the true owners of Palestine – they always do.

The only questions  we in Gaza are asking today are “What next?” and “When?”

 

Hot weather food for thought

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Forget ice-cream – there’s no electricity for the fridge, so it’s melted. Going to a shop to buy some doesn’t help – you walk in the door and slide several feet in the melt-water from their fridge, almost taking out the shelf of packet-food you grab to steady yourself. You’ll have to settle for a warm bottle of something sickly-sweet, because they don’t even bother stocking ice-cream anymore, and the water is all sold out.

The donkey-drawn vegetable cart outside has a pile of cool green cucumbers, and blazing red tomatoes – gazpacho comes to mind, so you buy a kilo of each. You rush back home trying to get there ‘on the hour’ to catch the elevator during it’s five minutes of operation, mentally calculating what else you need and dismissing it because if it’s the choice between a fresh red pepper and a ten-floor hike in this heat, the pepper loses.

You make it. Dumping the bags on the bench, you go to the fridge and draw back at the musty smell that emanates from within. You can’t figure it out – it can’t be the butter, that melted and had to be thrown out days ago. The cheese left of its own accord the day after. The wizened lemons wouldn’t smell like that, nor the bottle of soy sauce – and there’s not much else left in there.

You open the vegetable crisper and get out an onion that is miraculously still crispish, and the red pepper that looks more like a sun-dried tomato – but hey, it’s going to be liquidised anyway.

The recipe suggests a couple of slices of french bread. In the absence of such a luxury, you open the freezer to get out some pita. You almost fall over backwards – THAT is where the smell is coming from. The precise source is best left undisturbed. The bread, despite being inside a plastic bag, is soggy and wet. You take a piece into your bedroom and set it on the sill in the sun.

Back in the kitchen you chop garlic, the onion, the wrinkly pepper, a couple of cucumbers and the tomatoes and toss them in the blender. Uh oh, no electricity.

You go into the next room and check for the indicator light in the fuse-box – have they turned the generator on yet? Yes! Last month, you bit the bullet and had cables installed to connect you to the neighbour’s generator – for a flat rate per month of only seven times the municipality rate per kw, plus more for whatever extra you use over that allowance, he promised a continuous supply, except for  when the grid is on (two hours a day) and one hour for it to rest – even generators get tired in this heat. But that was the soft-sell – in reality it comes on randomly, sometimes at the same time as the grid – but often not at all, for days on end…

When the electrician came to connect you up, and put in a light so you could see in the kitchen as well as use your laptop and internet, he offered  to connect a wall power-point too. As you carry the blender into your bedroom and unplug the bedside lamp to plug it in, you congratulate yourself on his foresight.

After a few minutes whizzing, you get the now-dry and brittle bread off the sill, and go back to the kitchen for the vinegar and olive oil to drizzle in. You remove the little cap from the blender lid and start it up – and your sheet turns into a Jackson Pollock as the contents spray out.

Undeterred, you pour half into a bowl, and do it in two stages, using two bowls – something you should have done from the beginning because you knew it was too full, but you wanted to save on dishes because there is no water to wash them with because two hours of power a day is not enough for the water pump to fill the roof tanks….

Back to the kitchen – the bed must wait until there is electricity and water sufficient to do a load of laundry…….

You  add the salt and pepper, adjust the seasonings – and now all that is left to do is….chill it for several hours.

The one thing you cannot run off a generator is a fridge – even if you could somehow lug it into your bedroom to plug it in.

You decide that warm gazpacho is actually very tasty.

And that sleeping on the one square foot of clean sheet left really is perfectly bearable…

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering 2014

As we have reached the third anniversary of the most horrific months of my life, I am re-posting a record of a day in Gaza in July 2014

Noor

Noor Abu Jarad, survived but 8 of her family were killed

The scenes as I go to work each day are harrowing – I must walk past the morgue of Al Shifa Hospital. For the first few days I didn’t even realise it was the morgue – a few cars parked outside, small groups of people clustered against the walls, some obviously grieving – in the hospital grounds during a war, not an uncommon sight. But each day the numbers of cars, and of people grew, and one morning the stark reality of what it was hit me. As I walked a car drove past me and stopped, and a man approached it cradling a bright white tightly swaddled body in his arms, that of a very small child. I went around the car to let him through, and met men running with a stretcher with a covered body on it – or so I thought.

As they ran past, a bloodied limb fell onto the ground in front of me. It was not a body on the stretcher, but a collection of body parts – the horrific evidence of the type of weapons being used by Israel, some prohibited, others so new they are still in the testing stages – on Gaza civilians. Norwegian surgeons Mads Gilbert and Eric Fosse who are working in the hospital say they have never seen some of the injuries before, in 30 years of work in war zones.

I carry on, past the young men sitting sobbing against the wall, heads on knees. I can barely restrain my own tears.

The numbers outside the morgue swell, and subside, but the numbers inside continue to grow. Some days I can’t even get through, some days ambulances or cars arrive and bodies are removed in front of my eyes, while relatives scream, faint, or numbly watch as yet another family member is taken from them. The misery, the grief, the sheer human pain is overwhelming. And I walk on past, and go upstairs to report the dead and injured in facts and figures, my heart bursting, my soul shaken, and desperately trying to cling to that thing called humanity when there is so little evidence of it in what I have just seen.

I go upstairs and see the exhausted doctors and surgeons, who two weeks ago were healthy, vibrant human beings now reduced to haggard, pale ghosts of themselves, struggling to keep going, to provide care and save lives when there is so little care to provide, no medicines, no supplies, no equipment, and where lives that might be saved are lost to the sheer numbers demanding their attention. Doctors who must decide on the spot which patients live and which die, not because clinically they couldn’t all be saved, but because there are only resources enough for one.

Doctors, nurses and hospital staff who all now know that even in the hospitals they are not safe, because Israel is now deliberately attacking them.  Three hospitals have had to be evacuated since Thursday, seven hospital staff have already been killed or injured. Ambulance drivers and paramedics who know that when they go to retrieve the injured, they may not return – 12 ambulances have been destroyed, one driver killed and five ambulance officers injured. All in a day’s work – and these people have not been paid for months, they are doing this out of their own sense of compassion and duty.

I go to the wards to interview survivors and their families. One might think that this would be less traumatic – at least they are alive, there is hope. It is not – babies whose bodies are blasted with shrapnel so they look more like a pepper steak than a human baby, unconscious children with tubes going in and out crying for mothers and fathers who will never comfort them because they are dead, mothers sharing a room with several of their children, all sliced, diced, minced or shredded by Israeli arms made in or funded by the US, not knowing if or which of them will get out of there, and if and when they do, will they be able to walk, talk, feed themselves, study, work or have any semblance of the normal future she hoped for them. Fathers collapsed into themselves, wracked with guilt that they did not, could not, protect their family.

I walk outside, and the sky is blue, the sun is shining. Birds are even singing. I want to scream at them “Don’t you know what is happening?” I walk home beneath the ever-present drones, the sound of explosions almost keeping pace with my footsteps. I go back past the morgue, now shut up, and deserted – on the outside at least. A group of children run past carrying bottles of water, giggling and falling over, helping each other up. I pass the maternity ward, see a man in the street calling to his wife, who appears in a window and holds up their new-born baby for him to see.

I wonder, was this deliberate, the siting of the maternity unit next to the morgue? So that as one leaves, the affirmation of life is what remains?

After all, this is Gaza, where mere existence is resistance.

I’m back – boots and all!

IMG_1165 (400 x 300)

Not that I have been anywhere except Gaza since my last post – the Israeli-Egyptian siege has seen to that. Helped by being barefoot, because my shoes were pinched from the mosque…. which is what I am writing about today.

Not the theft of my shoes in particular, but the desperation that it represents.

Honesty is not just the best policy, but it is pretty fundamental to Islam, and something that is taken very seriously. The sanctity of the mosque, Ramadan, and Jummah even more so.

Which is why it is a telling measure of just how difficult life has become in Gaza, that people are resorting to stealing shoes from the mosque.

Sure there have always been such occasional thefts – but not on the scale they are now occurring.

Three members of one family I know have had their shoes vanish on different days in the past month, from the same mosque in an impoverished neighbourhood of Gaza City. Mine disappeared from there also. There wasn’t even a pair left behind that I could wear home!!

Yesterday, it was the father’s turn to arrive home barefoot after the Jummah prayer.

An indication of just how desperate the people taking them are, is that with the exception of mine, which were relatively new, the stolen shoes have all been old and well-worn – hardly the target of a sophisticated thief, but more like the desperate act of someone perhaps figuring that the owner, being able to afford a pair in the first place and given they were almost worn out, would just have to buy a new pair a bit earlier, thus keeping two people shod.

Because for sure the shoes they stole were not going to be on-sold for a profit, or to dance up a storm – none of them were good enough for that.

Their fate was more likely to trudge the streets selling tissues, or to try to get work as a labourer, or to carry their sick child to the hospital.

I harbour the secret hope that maybe someone is stockpiling them, for when pompous international politicians and ‘peace-makers’ visit……

 

Hemaya: Gaza Inquiry appointments raise questions

PRESS RELEASE
Hemaya Center for Human Rights

hemaya logo (400 x 107)

Hemaya Center for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the events leading to the resignation of Professor William Schabas as Chair of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, and his replacement by Ms Mary McGowan Davis.

We consider that best practice requires that potential conflicts of interest are explored PRIOR to appointment to such inquiries, and we are most concerned that this appears not to have been the case in regard to Professor Schabas. We remain concerned that it has also not been the case re Ms McGowan Davis, given her hasty appointment. Read the rest of this page »

Huda hits Gaza hard

Laila

This storm Huda is truly the most terrifyingly noisy, bitterly cold and miserable storm imaginable.

Even in a house with fully-glazed windows shut, the wind whistles seemingly straight through them. Imagine how it is for the thousands of families with plastic (if it has not blown away), wood, rusty iron sheets for windows, or none at all – if I couldn’t sleep with four walls, a roof and theoretically intact windows then how could anyone with less? Imagine Gaza’s homeless’ night of bitter hopelessness…

The gusts were so strong I thought the windows were going to blow in. I could not decide whether to drag a mattress into the internal room away from the windows and risk my core body temperature dropping to a hypothermic level, or staying where I was huddled under a quilt and blanket, four layers of clothing and socks, with a coat on and a woollen shawl over my head, where at least I was maintaining an almost normal temperature. Imagine what it was like to be in the ruins of part-destroyed houses – maybe one or two walls, a bit of roof or nylon above your head if it hasn’t been ripped away by the wind – or even just a tent, which thousands of Gazans are forced to live in? With only the few clothes they were able to salvage from the dust and destruction of their homes?

Even with all my windows closed, the wind still forced the rain in, and it still lays in pools on the floor of two rooms. Even with internal doors closed and towels rolled and stuffed along the bottom to stop the draughts the towels literally flew across the floor halfway into the room. The wind even whistled between the joins in the wood of the doors. The internal room, even with all doors closed, was like a wind tunnel. Imagine a room with two walls…or none at all.

How can this family stay warm in this house in Beit Hanoun?

How can this family stay warm in this house in Beit Hanoun?

I took my chances and stayed in my bed – but I could not sleep – the noise was terrifying, the gusts battering against the glass, the rattling and tearing of the frames made any attempt at rest futile. Waiting for the windows to explode or the frames to be ripped from the walls was just like waiting for another Israeli missile during the last aggression – will THIS be the one that gets me? Imagine the families huddled together in the rubble, freezing, wind-battered, terrified, wondering which of them will not wake in the morning, which seems never to come…

Just like unified government. Just like reconstruction materials. Just like the lifting of the siege. Just like Palestinian rights. All promised but never delivered, like a day that never dawns.

Huda. Not just a storm, but an allegory.

The morning may now have broken, the winds died a little – but the bitter cold remains. And while the Palestinian Authority continues the tempest of its soft coup against Hamas, its collaboration with Israel and Egypt, and its apartheid policies against Gaza, there can be no thaw, no calm.

Like Huda, the PA is almost spent. The people who have survived will salvage what they can from the wreckage and work together to rebuild what it has destroyed. Only then can there be a sunny new day for Gaza – and Palestine.