Palestinian Civil Society Organizations Call on the International Community to Stop the Offensive on Gaza (PNGO)

(Received from Amjad Shawa of the Palestinian NGO Network,  I have tried to update some of the  grim stats but of course the death toll and numbers of civilian buildings hit only keep rising…)

Since Wednesday evening, 14 November 2012, Israeli Occupation Forces have continued their offensive on the Gaza Strip, code-named “Operation Pillar of Defence” through aerial, marine and ground bombardment throughout the Gaza Strip, using missiles and artilleries. This is occurring amidst increasing Israeli threats to expand the offensive with a ground invasion; large numbers of Israeli troops have been deployed at the borders of the Gaza Strip, and it is reported that 75,000 reservists have been called up. Contrary to claims by the Israeli government that Israeli forces do not target civilians, the outcome of this offensive so far has indicated that only civilians pay the price. Over 70 civilians have been killed, including children and women, and hundreds more, including children and women, have been wounded. Israeli forces have attacked civilian facilities, including houses, mosques, churches and schools, and governmental buildings of a completely civil nature, such as the buildings of the Council of Ministers and the Civil Department of the Ministry of Interior.

Over the past few days, Israeli forces have intensified the bombardments in a serious escalation, targeting civilian lives and property. Recently, Israeli forces directly bombarded media offices in Gaza City, seriously wounding a number of journalists. There has been no safe place in the Gaza Strip, which essentially does not have any shelter where civilians can have protection from day and night bombardments. Approximately 1.7 million people have become under Israeli forces fire, and their lives are in danger. A number of people have been killed or wounded while inside their houses, as a result of the bombarding of residential areas and their vicinities, with bombs weighing up to one ton dropped by F-16 fighter jets.

During this offensive, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is dramatically deteriorating, especially with the closure of all border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel and the denial of entry of basic goods and materials into the Gaza Strip, including medical consignments, food and fuel. This is in violations of the obligations of Israel as an occupying power under the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which requires Israel to facilitate the passage of medical and foods consignments to the civilian population in the occupied territory in all circumstances. We, Palestinian civil society organizations in the Gaza Strip, condemn the ongoing offensive by Israeli forces, and warn of further deterioration of the situation and its catastrophic impact on the lives of Palestinian civilians. We are concerned that the worst has not yet come, and unless the international community intervenes to stop this offensive, only Palestinian civilians will pay the price of this escalation. Even before this offensive, their suffering that has been constant due to the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than six years; the recent crimes committed by Israeli forces will further deepen their suffering. The role of the international community is not just to condemn international crimes, but to act to prevent them from being committed. The failure of the international community to intervene to protect Palestinian civilians serves to encourage the State of Israel and its occupation forces to commit more crimes against them. Such crimes will continue as long as accountability is lacking and impunity for the perpetrators is pervasive. Less than four years ago, Israeli forces already waged an offensive on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 (“Operation Cast Lead”). After this offensive, the international community failed to assume their responsibility to hold the perpetrators of war crimes accountable.

Therefore: We call upon the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to fulfill their obligation to ensure Israeli forces’ respect for the Convention, and to stop Israel’s systematic attacks against Palestinian civilians and their property.

We call upon the United Nations, represented by the Secretary General, to immediately act and intervene to protect international security and peace in accordance with the UN Charter. We express our deep shock at his decision to visit Israel and Ramallah on Tuesday, 20 November, without visiting the Gaza Strip which is currently under attack. This has serious indications that the Secretary General is following the US position of supporting Israel, the party which practices occupation and aggression, at the expense of Palestinian civilians who are the victims of the offensive. We call upon the Human Rights Council to hold a special session to address the situation in the Gaza Strip and take effective steps to stop the offensive. We highly appreciate Arab and international official and public visits to the Gaza Strip in solidarity with its people, especially the visits of the Egyptian Prime Minister and the Tunisian Foreign Minister, and call for more solidarity visits in the upcoming days. We call upon Arab civil society organizations to organize visits to the Gaza Strip in solidarity with the Palestinian people and rejection for the Israel’s offensive and crimes, and we highly appreciate the solidarity activities organized by them and call upon them to continue such important activities.

We highly appreciate demonstrations and protests by solidarity movement with the Palestinian people throughout the world, and express our full support for their efforts to pressurize their governments to intervene in order to stop the offensive.We call for establishing a safe passage to ensure the entry of medical and food consignments into the Gaza Strip, which is an obligation of the occupying power under international humanitarian law.

(adaptation of image from Picasso's Guernica)

Signatories: – Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network, representing 130 Palestinian NGOs- The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights- Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights- Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights.

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Pre-Occupation

October 20

I have not yet discussed my linguistic work with any of the other linguists, which is unusual. I’ve been to many linguistics conferences, but none where I was so otherwise preoccupied. This is not surprising, given that our trip is not exclusively to attend an academic conference. I realise another side of the occupation and siege, a side that one may not be aware of if one is not here: everybody here works on a double shift. People do whatever they do in life, and they work around the difficulties of living in a place that is artificially and cruelly cut off from the rest of the world, and deprived to its bare minimum by an inhumane blockade. Nobody can be just a linguist, a mason, a doctor, a writer, an artist. Foremost people are occupied with surviving the occupation. It taints everything. Nobody, not even children here are apolitical. How clever Israel is, indeed.

In an argument about the responsibility of writers (and intellectuals in general) of taking a stand on issues such as injustice towards Palestinians, a writer friend of mine once stated how important it was for writers to protect their ‘space’. No artist who lives here has the luxury of such a ‘space’. Perhaps this is the best argument that artists and intellectuals indeed bear a responsibility to openly take a stand and use their voice in support of an oppressed people, especially if they live in a society that directly or indirectly contributes to the suffering, by silent acquiescence, moral, political, and financial support for the oppressors, and that benefits in indirect ways from the status quo of the political situation.

Khan Younis

October 19

The next morning, the same van picks us up at 8:15 and we are driven to Khan Younis and its nearby refugee camp in the mid-south of the Gaza strip. We enter a municipal building and meet the mayor of Khan Younis, along with some other officials. Speeches, and a film. The first of several to come, one as disturbing and saddening and difficult to watch as the next. Somehow watching a film about Palestinian suffering in the midst of people who are affected is different. The most interesting speech, and the one that gets a lot of questions, there and later in the van, is by an engineer, Azzam. He apologizes not being ‘terribly intellectual’ (by now I’ve understood that being ‘intellectual’ is a high compliment here). However, not only does he seem to be a very knowledgeable person, but his domain is water and waste water management, two very central, and very problematic areas for Khan Younis, and Gaza in general. He tells us about the coastal aquifers that is in danger of being irreversibly damaged over the next years. I had read some things about this in a recent UN report entitled Gaza in 2020. A livable place? (Here is a quote from a Global Research article concerning water consumption in the area: “The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for minimal water consumption of 100 liters per capita per day; .. Palestinians average 50 -70 liters…. Israeli capita usage averages 400 l/d and Israel settlers in the Palestinian Occupied Territories average 800 l/c/d. Thus, Israelis average almost five times more water consumption than Palestinians.”)

Photos: Philippe Prévost

By now we have realised that cameras are going to be everywhere – hardly surprising, given that Chomsky is part of our group. I spot one from the German ARD – a sidekick of their Tel Aviv branch. I would really be interested in their coverage of Gaza.

We return to the van and are driven around some more. I had imagined walking around, and talking to some people on the street. But we only see them from the van, and take photos from the van. Children, and sometimes adults wave. It feels strange to be looking at them from inside the air conditioned van.

  Next we visit a hospital. It has one floor, but it was supposed to already have been built up to five or six floors a few years ago. But building materials ran out in the wake of the siege imposed in 2007, and it for now it remains with one floor. We are shown a film about the 2008-2009 bombing of Gaza by the Israeli forces. We’ve all seen the images, but again, it’s very different indeed to watch them here. (I remember how Harper had called these massacres a “measured response” by Israel.) More speeches. One from a surgeon that rattles us. As he speaks, he becomes increasingly emotional, but no one blames him. He talks about operating on someone and have the drip run out, on people being in pain and the hospital having run out of pain medication. Of operating when the lights go out. (Here is a video clip of his address, uploaded by Verena Stresing.) We in Canada complain about waiting times and shortages of doctors, but these things pale in comparison to what people have to live with here. We take so many things for granted that clearly people here cannot. Criteria of what are basic human needs are relative to what part of the world you live in. We are shown a bare looking outpatient ward (photo P. Prévost) and briefly get to meet a couple of doctors and nurses. (On shortage of medication, see this 2012 WHO report.)

When we come out I spot a large tent. I ask someone what is in it and am told that it is sometimes used for emergency surgery. 

We now drive to a waste water facility close to the coast. It regularly overflows and contaminates the area around, the ground water, and the sea. On the way there, not far, we had seen an olive tree plantation whose trees looked unhealthy and pretty dried out.

Then comes an invitation to a beautiful seaside restaurant that has only recently opened, where we are served a copious lunch. Many plates are returned with food left over. We are hungry and grateful for the kind hospitality. But somehow it does not feel right to be eating so much, and drinking so much water and soft drinks, when a few miles up the road children are lacking in safe water and being chronically malnourished.

A man tells us: “Israelis are very smart. They do not let us starve, they feed us just enough to survive, but not to live well and be healthy.’

A few days days ago it was reported in the media that in a document from January 2008, Israel alotted  2,279  calories per day to Gazans (apparently following WHO guidelines).  The Star reports further that Israel ‘broke down the calorie allocation by various food groups, and in minute details. It said that males aged 11 to 50 required 316.05 grams of meat per day, and women in the same age group needed 190.47 grams of flour. The analysis also included adjustments for locally grown farm products as well as an assessment of the kinds of food imports that would be needed to sustain the population. What is this – calorie alottment guidelines like for exotic animals in a zoo?!

Apart from insufficient and unsustainable water supply, inappropriate waste-water and waste management, another theme keeps popping up: the tunnels. Gazans are a resilient people and manage amazing feats under the siege. But to do so they rely on illegal smuggling through tunnels. They do not want this. They do not want to be forced to something illegal just in order to accomplish things that  are taken for granted elsewhere in the world, such as renovate a house in ruins, or build a new one, or repair windows. Moreover, the tunnel trade creates an unequal distribution of wealth, as trader enrich themselves, while the rest of the population struggles from having to pay dearly for anything that comes through the tunnels. And there is no legal and non-corrupt way to tax these services and have the population at large benefit from the trade.