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Old 2nd September 2009, 12:10
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CIA Hired Private Military Firm Blackwater for Secret Assassination Program
August 20, 2009 | Story
The New York Times is reporting the CIA hired contractors from Blackwater in 2004 as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of al-Qaeda. The CIA spent several million …
Jeff Sharlet on “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”
August 12, 2009 | Story
A secretive group known as The Fellowship, or "The Family," is one of the most powerful Christian fundamentalist movements in the United States. The Family's devoted membership includes congressmen, …
In Explosive Allegations, Ex-Employees Link Blackwater Founder to Murder, Threats
August 05, 2009 | Story
In sworn statements, two ex-employees claim Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince, murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One also …
Rep. Henry Waxman on Healthcare Reform, the Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill and the Expanding Role of Private Contractors in the Battlefield
August 04, 2009 | Story
Since President Obama's inauguration, two of the Democrats' key legislative priorities have made significant advances in Congress. In June, the House passed a landmark climate bill that would impose …
How Can We Have Sovereignty When We Don’t Have Electricity or Water to Bathe? Iraqi Reporter on US Troop Pullback
July 01, 2009 | Story
In Iraq, a deadly car bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk has killed up to forty people and injured another 100. Tuesday's bombing came hours after US troops withdrew from major Iraqi towns and …
Blackwater Sued for 2007 Killing of Iraqi Civilian
June 11, 2009 | Headline
The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the August 2007 killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hilla. The case was filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of …
Memorial Day Special…Winter Soldier on the Hill: War Vets Testify Before Congress
May 25, 2009 | Story
War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill this month to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March …
Jeremy Scahill: “Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama”
May 19, 2009 | Story
Jeremy Scahill reports the Obama administration is continuing to use a notorious military police unit at Guantanamo that regularly brutalizes unarmed prisoners, including gang-beating them, breaking …
Blackwater Remains in Iraq Despite Contract's Expiration
May 08, 2009 | Headline
In Iraq, the Baghdad contract of the private military firm once known as Blackwater has officially expired. The company, now calling itself Xe, will continue to work elsewhere in Iraq. The firm Triple …
With High Unemployment, Carolinas Reel from Economic Crisis
April 09, 2009 | Story
As we broadcast from Raleigh, we look at how the economic crisis has impacted the Carolinas with Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and a writer for the blog "Facing …
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Israeli Journalist Amira Hass on the Start of the UN’s Probe into Possible Israeli War Crimes during Gaza War


The actions of the Israeli army during its twenty-two-day assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year are back in the spotlight with the arrival of a United Nations delegation in Gaza this Monday. The fifteen-member team will be investigating possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel’s military assault. It’s headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who was the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel opposes the investigation and denied the delegation visas, forcing them to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing .


Amira Hass, author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. Her latest book, out later this month from Haymarket Books, is a diary written by her mother, Hanna Levy-Hass, of surviving the notorious Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. It’s called Diary of Bergen-Belsen, 1944-1945.


AMY GOODMAN: The actions of the Israeli army during the twenty-two-day assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year are back in the spotlight with the arrival of the UN delegation in Gaza this Monday. The fifteen-member team will be investigating whether possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel’s military assault. It’s headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who was the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel opposes the investigation, denies the delegation visas, forcing them to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York Monday and said the UN should investigate Hamas’s rockets and not alleged war crimes by Israel. He later told reporters Israel would not cooperate with the investigation.
EHUD BARAK: From our experience, we well know that they will never be able to talk to the other side and to penetrate or to interrogate the series of terrorist operations along years, including thousands of rockets and missiles fell upon the heads of Israeli citizens, in order to get a unbiased conclusion. And knowing the procedures by which such operations are taken, I don’t think that Israel has to or will cooperate with this interrogation.


AMY GOODMAN: Human rights groups and Palestinian officials say over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 900 civilians, were killed in what Israel calls “Operation Cast Lead.” Israel disputes the figures, claiming less than 300 civilian deaths. The Israeli Defense Forces-led investigation concluded last month there was no evidence of serious misconduct by its troops.

I’m joined now by the renowned Israeli journalist Amira Hass, regular columnist for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper. She has spent more than a decade living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank, the only Israeli journalist to do this, and returned to Gaza this year a few days after the official end of Israel’s assault. She spent the next four months living in Gaza, documenting accounts of the war and its aftermath.

She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege and Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. Her latest book, out later this month from Haymarket Books, is a diary written by her mother, Hanna Levy-Hass, of surviving the notorious Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. It’s called Diary of Bergen-Belsen, 1944-1945.

Amira Hass joins us in the firehouse studio now.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

AMIRA HASS: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. The latest news of the UN delegation, headed by the jurist Richard Goldstone of South Africa, being denied visas, so they’re going through the Rafah border controlled by Egypt.

AMIRA HASS: This is not the first delegation and the first investigation committee that has been denied Israeli cooperation. There was one by the Arab League that came in February and also did not receive any cooperation on the Israeli part. And it’s very strange. If they didn’t have anything to hide, if the Israelis didn’t have anything to hide, they would have gladly cooperated and given information to those very esteemed jurists, who have been—who have done a lot of important work dealing with other investigations all over the world. John Dugard led the other delegation, the first delegation of the Arab League. John Dugard is South African, just as Richard Goldstone is. And Richard Goldstone is also a Jew. And it is quite telling, or it is even incriminating, the Israeli refusal to cooperate with them.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think they’re hiding?

AMIRA HASS: The truth. The truth that it was not an attack against the military threat, because the military threat that Hamas poses is very minor. Israel, for years, has had the need to exaggerate the Palestinian military threat. It served not only Israeli needs, it very often served also internal Palestinian needs, to exaggerate their own threat to Israel, because that’s how they could maybe get more popularity in the Arab world, outside and inside the Palestinian community. So both—this exaggeration served both parties.

And, of course, Israel wants to hide—Israel built a presentation of the reality, not—it didn’t allow the reality to come out easily, the reality of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, mostly civilians. I was there for four months. I found it hard to find—I mean, the majority of people that I met, bereft families, people whose houses were destroyed, people whose houses were occupied by the army, people who were victims to missiles, attacks either by drones or helicopters, or bombs dropped, or being killed or wounded by bombs dropped by war jets. I found it hard to find Hamas—direct Hamas activists, let alone combatants or people who are known to be combatants. There is no way to hide this—there is no way that the Israeli figures about casualties is correct.

I mean, I asked the Israeli army to give me their list of—which they say about 700 casualties that they claim, or 1,000—I don’t remember now. They refused to give me their list. I wanted the list to check name by name and then to compare with the list that Palestinian human rights organizations compiled and to see where the differences are. And they said they could not give me the list, because this would disclose their sources. In one specific question about two women who were killed in short—by short range from a tank, I asked, “Are these two women included in your list of casualties?” I didn’t get an answer. So, the Israeli refusal to cooperate with information is very telling.

It’s true that also Hamas are not telling much. But by being there, of course, you learn a lot. They don’t tell much, because I think they don’t want to tell that—or they don’t want to break the myth that they could stand up against the Israeli army. They could not the Israeli army. And this is not shame. I mean, the discussion is whether one should—whether if you want to get to liberate the Palestinians from the Israeli occupation, whether the armed struggle or the—I call it the symbolic armed struggle, is indeed the way. This is the discussion. They have not—when you look at their abilities, when you look at their—the weapons that were smuggled in, those who sent them weapons did not send them sophisticated weapons at all. And there is no way they could stand up against the Israeli army. And this is something that the Israelis—both the Israelis and Hamas, I think, want to hide.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, meeting with Ban Ki-moon Monday, saying the UN should investigate Hamas’s rockets, not the alleged war crimes by Israel?

AMIRA HASS: I think that they have—I mean, everybody was talking about the rockets, and I think that the—let me ask you, you know the city of Sderot, right? You are familiar with this. Do you know Ben-e Have you ever mentioned in your program the village Bani Suhaila? How many people know about Beit Hanoun? How many people knew about Abasan? All these—how many people know—knew about Zeitoun? All these Palestinian neighborhoods and villages which were a victim of Israeli attacks. We only know about Sderot.
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Old 1st March 2010, 02:25
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AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s interesting. Journalists could get to Sderot.

AMIRA HASS: Exactly, yes, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli military let them get to Sderot, but not to Gaza.

AMIRA HASS: Exactly, and not to Abasan in order to see and not to—yeah. So it’s a chutzpah. I mean, really, it’s even tiring to discuss it. So, everybody knows about the rockets, Hamas rockets, on the country. People had the impression that the whole thing—that history started with the rockets, that the history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict started with the rockets, which is, of course—which doesn’t mean, you know—there is a lot of criticism, internal criticism, within the Palestinian society about the rockets, the use of rockets. It’s obvious that rockets did not liberate Gaza, did not liberate Palestine, and they cause more harm to the Palestinians than they even cause to the Israelis.

I asked once two activists of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, of the Hamas armed wing, I asked them, “Why do you do that?” I mean, it was back in 2003, 2004. And they told me, “We want to teach the Israelis a lesson. We want them to be afraid, just as we are, just as—not we, but just as our women and children are afraid.” This was very interesting. So it is a competition about who can instill more fear. I asked this time when I was in Gaza, I asked an activist in the Islamic jihad, I said, “So, who is more afraid? You or the Israelis?” And he admitted that in this competition over fear, also the Palestinians are the losers.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, there’s an article in the New York Times that says, “According to […] newly disclosed data, about 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank […] over the [past] 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans, awaiting nothing more than a government decision to build.” We’re talking about a doubling almost—

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —of the settlements in the West Bank.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says there will be no new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and illegal outposts there will be dismantled.

AMIRA HASS: Look, all settlement is illegal. So when we use the term “illegal outposts,” it’s misleading. It’s unauthorized illegal settlements, while you have the authorized illegal settlements. This is the real distinction.

And the real problem is not these outposts. They are tiny. Most of them are tiny. And they just distract our attention from the real construction. Yeah, this has been Israeli success. And this is, by the way, one of the things I ask the Palestinians, and that’s a problem. Neither the Palestinian so-called armed struggle—I call it symbolic armed struggle—and suicide—and terrorist attacks, both guerrilla and—guerrilla attacks and terror attacks against civilians, both these and Palestinian negotiation strategy have not stopped the settlements. On the contrary, the settlements grew in parallel, in tandem with the Oslo process and with the process of negotiations.

So, actually, Israel—you know, I asked once a Peace Now activist, and it was in ’95 or so, I asked him, “Why did you drop the slogan that you had before ’91 or before ’93, the slogan of ‘no peace with the settlements’?” And he said, “If the Palestinians accept the settlements, actually, if Abu Mazen accepted some settlements, who are we to oppose him or to say differently?” It’s true that with the Oslo agreement, Palestinians gave the impression that they could live with the settlements. And then you had the Geneva—Geneva talks or whatever, not talks, but the convention of some groups, that accepted the existence of two major settlements: Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev. So, indeed, the Palestinians gave an impression that they will tolerate these settlements. And we—no, some Palestinians, not all, of course. Others say that it’s too late now to dismantle the settlements. So, actually, it is—any solution which is based on the two states is obsolete.

AMY GOODMAN: Your evaluation, assessment of President Obama so far on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as he heads now to the Middle East, first to Saudi Arabia, then to Egypt?

AMIRA HASS: It’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And then to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah. My evaluation, it’s—so far I see more hope invested in him than I see real inclinations to pressure Israel. I mean, all the statements that were said so far are encouraging, in the sense that he understands or his administration understands that there must be a way out of this deadlock. But there must be measures taken, such as freeze of sales of arms to Israel, freeze or stoppage of all support, financial support of Israel as long as it continues to build in the settlements. So these things are yet to be seen.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, I hope this is part one of our conversation this week, that when you come back to New York City, you’ll be with us later in the week, because I particularly also want to talk about your mother’s book that’s out posthumously, Diary of Bergen-Belsen, as President Obama visits a concentration camp, as well. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Our guest, Amira Hass, columnist for Ha’aretz newspaper, renowned Israeli journalist.
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Netanyahu Outlines Vision for a Demilitarized Palestinian State with Israel Controlling the Borders and Airspace of Palestine


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered what was billed as a major policy speech on Sunday, accepting the creation of a Palestinian state on the condition that it would be completely demilitarized and have no control over its airspace. He also said that Israel would refuse to engage with Hamas. Palestinian officials condemned Netanyahu’s speech, saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations.


Arik Ascherman, Executive Director of Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights. He is currently on a speaking tour in the United States.
David Makovsky, co-author of a new book on US policy in the Middle East, along with Dennis Ross, who is the Obama administration’s special adviser on Iran. The book is called Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re asking David Makovsky to stay with us. We’ll be joined by the head of the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights. But first, I wanted to go to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering what was billed as a major policy speech Sunday, accepting the creation of a Palestinian state on the condition that it would be completely demilitarized and have no control over its airspace. He also said Israel would refuse to engage with Hamas.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Above all, Palestinians must make one important choice: they must decide between the way of peace and the way of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority must impose law and order in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas. Israel will not negotiate with terrorists trying to destroy it.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, earlier this month, while speaking in Cairo, President Obama said he wanted all settlement activity to stop.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.


AMY GOODMAN: But Prime Minister Netanyahu did not back away from his position of supporting, quote, “natural growth” in the settlements and said illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank should be, quote, “allowed to lead normal lives.”
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] The territorial issue will be discussed as a part of a final [inaudible] Above all, Palestinians must make one important choice: they must decide between the way of peace and the way of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority must impose law and order in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas. Israel will not negotiate with terrorists trying to destroy it.


AMY GOODMAN: David Makovsky is still with us in Washington, co-author of the new book with Dennis Ross, who’s former chief peace negotiator on the Israel-Palestine conflict under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The book, Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

And we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by the executive director of the Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who’s in the United States on a speaking tour.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Rabbi Ascherman, your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s major address yesterday?



RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, it’s, of course, significant that he even made a policy address. Israeli leaders don’t usually do that. That shows that he—that our prime minister felt a need to respond to President Obama in a very significant way.

I’m, unfortunately, always remembered of the words of our former prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, when he was voted out of office. He had been the prime minister during the beginning of the Madrid process. And he said, “You know, it’s too bad that I was voted out of office. My plan was to keep on talking and talking and talking, all the while creating facts on the ground, so that by the time we actually got anywhere, there would be—it would be moot. There would be nothing really to talk about.”
AMY GOODMAN: David Makovsky, your response?



DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, I think that this issue of the settlements has, no doubt, been a problem. It’s not been the only problem. There have been a lot of problems also on the Arab side that has made this progress impossible.

But the point is, let’s look forward. I have an op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal, where I said the only way to deal with the settlement issue is to make it moot, is to proceed to territorial negotiations, demarcate the border, and make it clear where Palestine begins, Israel ends, and give hope and really the contours of this two-state solution. I don’t think we can solve all the problems. If this was a football game, we might not be able to throw a hail Mary pass the length of a football field, but if we can throw a screen pass, a short pass, or hand off the ball, we could take the ball seventy yards down the field.

The territorial issue is one of four issues. There’s Jerusalem. There’s refugees. There’s security. And there’s land. Ironically, and this may be kind of a surprise to some of your viewers and listeners, I would argue that of all these four issues, where the issues—where the differences are narrowest is on land. Abbas said that he wanted two percent that Israel could retain with what’s called offsetting territorial swaps. And Olmert said around six-and-a-half percent, the former prime minister. It seems that this is bridgeable.

And it would have very quickly three key benefits. One, it would take the settlements issue off the map, in terms of US-Israel relations, which has been a flashpoint. Second, for the Palestinians, this would vindicate the idea that moderation pays, that negotiations can succeed, and that Hamas extremism fails. And for Israel, by demarcating the border, it would be clear that Israel would—could retain, I think, somewhere around three-quarters of the settlements—settlers, excuse me, not settlements, that live in less than four-and-a-half percent of the territory with offsetting swaps. So, the Palestinians could say, “I got 100 percent of the land,” and the Israelis could say they got something, too. There would be something in it for everyone.

Would we have solved Jerusalem, refugees and security? No. And there would have to be clear timetables for that. We can’t solve this conflict without them. But we have to make progress where we can. We want to be able to—that each side sees dignity for both sides. And I think territorial negotiations can do this and make the settlement issue moot for the first time in forty years.
AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Arik Ascherman, your response?



RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, I agree with David that we shouldn’t get stuck on one particular solution. Of course, as a director of the human rights organization, we don’t have a position on just where the borders should be, that we, of course, say that the settlements are illegal, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, something that Israel does not accept, but most of legal scholars would, that the occupation must end.
But it is true that it’s the political echelons on both sides that have to define the contours of just what that’s going to look like. The issue is a process. It is a process in which sides sit down and begin to deal with their differences, create a solution that—without coercion, because you can be sitting around a table, and there can be a lot of coercion going on—that both sides eventually not only can agree to, because sometimes leaders will agree so that they’ve said they’ve signed a piece of paper—and what we saw during the Oslo Process was that neither side was able to deliver, in terms of marketing to their own constituents, what they had agreed upon.


AMY GOODMAN: And Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that there could be a Palestinian state, perhaps, if it was demilitarized, if they didn’t control their airspace, Rabbi Ascherman?



RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: I don’t think that there is a very likely chance that any Palestinian leadership is going to agree to that. I don’t care if Netanyahu wants to put that on the table for discussion. I am much more concerned about his insistence on the continuation of natural growth. Again, I agree with David that there’s many solutions, and they don’t all entail removing all the settlements.

As we focus on Israel and what Israel and Israelis need to do to become more involved and agreeable to the peace process, let’s not forget that there’s another partner here, the Palestinians. Right now, the credibility of the Palestinian Authority is subterranean. It’s less than zero. And that lack of credibility is largely because, on the ground, Palestinians don’t see any change. We were predicting the Second Intifada a year and a half before it happened. Predicting doesn’t mean justifying violence. But in the same way that the Israelis were becoming disillusioned with the peace process when the Palestine Authority was unwilling or unable to stop terror, average Palestinians saw the ongoing settlement expansion, the ongoing expropriation of land and the other human rights violations, and they said, “This is not going to bring us anything.”

And natural growth is—not only does it mean you have more and more settlers, which will be difficult to remove, and one of the things that we’re doing with Rabbis for Human Rights right now is what’s called Operation Price Tag, where the most radical of the settlers have said that “We’re going to cause so much violence and mayhem every time even one prefab home is removed that the army will have to think two and three and four times about the next time,” and we’ve seen these folks not only burning down Palestinian trees and viciously attacking Palestinians, but attacking Israeli soldiers and police, as well. And so, we have to deal with that. And often, you do a ruse—
AMY GOODMAN: We have fifteen seconds.


RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: So you say that you’ve got another neighborhood of the same settlement, but it’s actually a kilometer or so away and it’s taking more land, so it’s an illusion to say that you’re not taking more land when you allow natural growth.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights. He’s currently in the United States on a speaking tour. And David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, formerly executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, co-author of the new book with Dennis Ross, of Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.
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Massive US Arms Sale to Israel Disclosed

Amnesty International has revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel despite evidence that US weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. Amnesty said a German cargo ship carrying about 14,000 tons of arms docked in late March at the Israeli port of Ashdod, about twenty-five miles north of Gaza. The ship left for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.



Sinn Fein Leader Condemns Gaza Siege

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Gerry Adams of Ireland’s Sinn Fein visited areas damaged by the three-week Israeli attack earlier this year. Adams condemned the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.
Gerry Adams: “I witnessed what was happening here back in Ireland on the television screens, and I said then that what is happening here is totally and absolutely wrong, and it should cease. And nothing prepares you for the sight that’s all around us and that confirms my view that what happened here is wrong and it should stop.”

Adams went on to call on both Israelis and Palestinians to halt violence and begin negotiations.



Land of Ruins: A Special Report on Gaza’s Economy


Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip .


AMY GOODMAN: We turn, though, now to, well, an international story, a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over $5.2 billion to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel’s assault the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this truck, which Israel permitted in late March, was the first carrying construction materials to be granted entry since last November.

Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat traveled to Gaza with Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films last month. She filed this story.
ANJALI KAMAT: Gaza is now a land of ruins. On December 27th, 2008, Israel launched a brutal twenty-two-day military operation in the Gaza Strip that killed over 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians. In addition to government and United Nations buildings, it is estimated that 21,000 homes were destroyed in all, leaving 100,000 people homeless. Over 600 industries and small businesses in Gaza were razed to the ground, sustaining $180 million in damages, according to the United Nations Development Program.


The industrial zone in Ezbat Abed Rabbo in northern Gaza once housed about sixty workshops and industries. Now it’s just a pile of rubble and twisted metal. Abu Omar established the Haddad tile factory and warehouse here just five years ago. During Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, he closed the factory and moved his family to the relative safety of Gaza City.
ABU OMAR: [translated] When we returned after the war, this is what we found. When we first came back, we couldn’t even recognize our neighborhood. It was like an earthquake, magnitude 10.0, not just 6.0. This is what we found. If there was any resistance, it must have been from here all the way to the Wafa hospital a mile and a half away. They didn’t spare a single house or factory or anything between here and the hospital. I consider this the result of an official decision by the Israeli government to destroy the entire area. We’ve incurred losses of $2,200,000.

ANJALI KAMAT: Salem Darraj used to work at a cement factory in the same area. Now, he too has joined the burgeoning ranks of the Palestinian unemployed, which some economists estimate has now risen to a staggering 70 percent in the Gaza Strip.
SALEM DARRAJ: [translated] There’s nothing going on here, as you can see. Everything is closed, the cars are stopped, the workers are unemployed, and everything is destroyed. As you can see, we are here guarding the businesses of the people we work for. We can’t just leave everything lying around in the open, but, at the same time, we can’t ask for our salaries.

ANJALI KAMAT: A quarter of Gaza’s population depended on agriculture for survival. Now, nearly half of the Strip’s agricultural land, infrastructure, and livestock and poultry farms are ravaged. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates $268 million of losses to Gaza’s agriculture sector. Almost all of the 13,000 families reliant on farming, fishing and herding have been directly impacted.

We visited one such family in the Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, where twenty-nine members of the Sammouni family were killed. Thirty-eight-year-old Naheela Sammouni and her husband were farmers. He was injured and buried alive in the Israeli attack, finally rescued from a pile of rubble and corpses four days after being given up for dead. He’s too weak to work, and his once lush farmland is now a devastated landscape.
NAHEELA SAMMOUNI: [translated] All of this is farmland. We used to grow chard, lettuce, turnips, radish, all from here. We’d sell it in the market and get some money to feed our children. Now our land is spoiled. Everything is destroyed. What can we do? We used to have sweet, tart pomegranates behind our home, so many plums, apricots, all right behind our house. Now, the olives, figs, everything is gone. We tended to our plants like our own children, so they would grow and we could eat from them. Now see what they did to us. What did we do wrong?


ANJALI KAMAT: Hamed Sammouni says the people of Zaitoun are simply too traumatized to go back to work.
HAMED SAMMOUNI: [translated] There’s absolutely no work. And even if there were jobs, people wouldn’t be able to work. People here are haunted by what happened and don’t have the mental capacity to work. After what they saw, they can’t work. Twenty-nine members of a single family gone. What’s left? What’s left?
Small children like these, what’s their fault? Do they have rockets? What do they know of resistance? An infant still breastfeeding from its mother, is he part of the resistance too? I mean, they even bombed chicken farms, too. How can chickens be in the resistance?

ANJALI KAMAT: John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, holds out little hope for reconstruction under these conditions.
JOHN GING: There’s going to be no reconstruction in Gaza until the crossing points open. There isn’t a bag of cement coming into Gaza at the moment. We have had to, you know, reopen our schools without conducting the repairs, because there is nothing—there’s no glass to fix the windows or do the basic repairs that are needed. We just have to make safe the area that is damaged and get on.
ANJALI KAMAT: But the economic devastation of Gaza did not begin with this latest assault that Israel dubbed “Operation Cast Lead.” Since 1967, Israel has maintained full control over Gaza’s borders. The restrictions grew tighter after Hamas won the elections in January 2006, and the blockade became a full-scale siege in June of 2007, when Hamas forces defeated those of rival Fatah, solidifying its control of the Gaza Strip.


Palestinian economist Omar Shabaan laid out the economic and political consequences of the siege, now in its twenty-second month.
OMAR SHABAAN: Since the closure in 2007, 95 percent of the Palestinian factories in Gaza closed down. We have 4,000 small businesses in Gaza. Two hundred thousand workers become unemployed in Gaza. And to make it clear to you, this 200,000 have no other option except joining the militia. They will become more radical. The siege, which was imposed by Israel, everybody knows now, it failed to bring any peace and moderation to the Palestinian society. This siege left Hamas with no competitors. Hamas is the only player in Gaza. So the international community should stop to blame us, and they should start to blame themselves for their own policy that they were imposing in Gaza.
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JOHN GING: So, the siege is at the center of everything. It’s at the center of human misery. It’s at the center of violence. It’s at the center of desperation and a sense—a growing sense of hopelessness. So, you know, before this particular round of conflict, we had a situation where the economy had been destroyed under the siege; there was no commercial activity whatsoever. And the humanitarian effort just to sustain people with basic food and medicine and so on, this was a struggle. In fact, in November of last year, we ran out of food, because we weren’t able to get in sufficient quantities of food. For the first time in sixty years of UNRWA’s operation here, we actually ran out of food. We normally carry two months’ reserves, but we depleted all of our reserves, because we were getting in insufficient quantities to actually meet the demands. At that point, there were 750,000 refugees food-aid-dependent. Again, this is the inevitable consequences of having no economy.

ANJALI KAMAT: Today, over 1.1 million people in Gaza are dependent on international donations and agencies like UNRWA, UNICEF and the World Food Program. With all legal exit and entry points sealed by Israel and Egypt, the 1.4 million Palestinians squeezed into Gaza’s 140 square miles of land have been forced to turn underground for survival.
OMAR SHABAAN: The Israelis closed the whole border, so the Palestinian has no other option except to dig tunnels to Egypt to bring commodities and to bring some services.

ANJALI KAMAT: We decided to take a look at Gaza’s underground economy for ourselves and headed south to Rafah, where the air is thick with the buzz of US-made F-16s overhead. The tunnels lie below a very visible network of tents stretched along the border with Egypt. We lowered ourselves a hundred feet into a tunnel, which was still under construction. We spoke to the man running the motorized system bringing excess sand to the surface. He wouldn’t give us his name but told us why he risked his life working in the tunnels.
TUNNEL WORKER: [translated] This work is very difficult. But we have no choice. We have to work in order to eat. If the crossings were open and the goods and cement were coming in, there’s no way I would be doing this. If we work, we eat; if not, we go hungry. This is our only means, our only livelihood. As long as the crossings are closed, there’s no alternative to the tunnels.
ANJALI KAMAT: Before January, there were nearly a thousand tunnels along the border; now only 400 are operational. The tunnels have been the targets of deadly, almost daily air strikes by Israel, which accuses Hamas of using them to smuggle in weapons.

While the man we spoke with denied the tunnels are used to bring in weapons, there’s no denying that the tunnels serve as Gaza’s only conduit to the outside world. They bring in everything required to maintain a semblance of normal life—everything that Israel does not allow in through the crossings.


The downside is that the prices are near unaffordable for a majority of Palestinians. Daoud Al-Banna owns a grocery store in Rafah.
DAOUD AL-BANNA: [translated] The stores are full of goods from the tunnels, but at very high prices. Everything coming from the tunnels is very expensive. It’s all because of the siege, of course. If there was no siege, the prices would be normal. Prices used to be low, everything would be plentiful, and the goods would move off the shelves. Now, it’s the opposite. This used to be four shekels, now it’s nine shekels.

ANJALI KAMAT: Abu Omar from the Haddad tile factory said that cement in Gaza costs a fortune because it comes through the tunnels.
ABU OMAR: [translated] A bag of cement is about $4 everywhere in the world. We pay about $50, because cement in Gaza comes through the tunnels. We pay about $30 just for entry. Now the whole world wants to raise funds for Gaza, but can the world tell Israel to open the borders and let the goods come in for the people?

ANJALI KAMAT: A vendor at a wholesale market selling goods straight from the tunnels blamed the high prices on the continuing air strikes.
VENDOR: [translated] Now very few of the tunnels are functional, because the Israelis bomb the tunnels every day. Very few workers want to work there now. They’re scared. Also the Egyptians are cracking down on the tunnels bringing goods. Very few people come here to buy things, because everything is expensive, they aren’t getting salaries, and they just don’t have money to buy the goods.

ANJALI KAMAT: While the tunnels are the only lifeline into Gaza, they also leave Gazans vulnerable to Israeli air strikes. Umm Mohammad’s house is one of the few buildings left standing on the border with Egypt. Armored Caterpillar bulldozers demolished most of the other homes over five years ago, between 2000 and 2004. Tunnels now surround Umm Mohammad, and an air strike in early January damaged half her home.
UMM MOHAMMAD: [translated] There’s been no truce. There’s bombing every day. Just this morning, they bombed this tunnel. Yesterday here. Day before yesterday there. Every day, it’s a new place. Every day, there’s an attack. We’ve had to run out onto the streets each time they attack, once at 1:00 in the morning, once at noon, once in the middle of the afternoon. Every day, day after day.

ANJALI KAMAT: She pointed out another tunnel beside her house that she feared would be the next target.
UMM MOHAMMAD: [translated] There’s pros and cons to the tunnels. On the negative side, the tunnels put us in harm’s way. But we also benefit from them, because the crossings are closed. There’s no food or reconstruction or jobs. What are we supposed to do? The young men turn to this so they can get married, live, have children and eat.

ANJALI KAMAT: I asked her how prices had changed.
UMM MOHAMMAD: [translated] It is very expensive. Chicken is twenty-three shekels. Turkey is twenty-five. Meat is sixty. What do we do?

ANJALI KAMAT: A tunnel supervisor, who didn’t want his face on camera, said prices had to be high to keep the tunnels functioning.
TUNNEL SUPERVISOR: [translated] Everything is expensive. We have to pay rent to the tunnel owner, and there are a lot of expenses to keep the system working. It has to be expensive. There’s no official way into Gaza for items to be sold at regularized prices.

ANJALI KAMAT: Indeed the tunnels are now big business and constitute one of the only avenues for profitable investment.
OMAR SHABAAN: Since the closure, which was imposed on Gaza in June 2007, 90 percent of the products, what are available in Gaza market, were coming through the tunnels, and estimated the turnover of the tunnels around $30 to $40 million a month.

ANJALI KAMAT: But Omar Shabaan is critical of the kind of economy generated by the tunnels.
OMAR SHABAAN: We are very angry to be seen by the international community as tunnel diggers. We are a nation looking for peace, for a state, not to dig tunnels. We were obliged to dig tunnels to take food for our children. We, most of the Palestinians, are against that, because the tunnel has caused a huge trouble to our economy and to social fabrics. Some people become rich in two weeks. Some kids make $1, $2 million in three weeks. So the whole economy has become informal economy. Usually black economy, ten percent; the 90 percent is the legal one, registered, formal, pay taxes. But we have now 90 percent of our economy is the black market. We don’t know who’s bringing what and on what basis, what’s the criteria. The main thing here about this tunnel, this tunnel will create a group of people who will be against any peace, because peace means the end of the tunnel phenomenon. So the Israeli policy created some people in Gaza who are against the peace, against the truce.
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ANJALI KAMAT: We asked the tunnel supervisor how his work is affected by the unity talks between Hamas and Fatah and international efforts for a peace process.
TUNNEL SUPERVISOR: [translated] If there’s an agreement or a solution or the crossings are opened, then all of this will have to close down, of course. None of this will remain as you see it now. But perhaps the smuggling—smuggling will never end in the world. Regardless of how much they try, it will not stop. There’s always something to smuggle.

ANJALI KAMAT: Putting a stop to cross-border smuggling into Gaza has become a key concern of the United States and other Western nations. Last month, the Obama administration pledged $900 million to rebuild Gaza on the condition that the Palestinian leadership renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Meanwhile, the US has promised Israel $30 billion in aid over the next decade, 75 percent of which Israel must use to buy American military goods and services. Omar Shabaan remains skeptical about the impact of aid pledged to Palestinians.
OMAR SHABAAN: Mrs. Hillary Clinton knows exactly that the $900 million that the American government will help to the extent Gaza and the West Bank, it wouldn’t do any positive consequences unless the siege on Gaza is lifted. The siege on Gaza will not be lifted as long as Hamas is ruling Gaza. Hamas will not be—will continue to rule Gaza unless the Palestinian divide is coming to its end. The $5 billion pledges of the international community to help in Gaza cannot start, cannot flow into Gaza, because Hamas is here. The international community will not deal with Hamas directly. The international community will deal with PA in Ramallah. PA in Ramallah has no physical presence in Gaza. The international community knows exactly this problem. So they have to work harder to bring the Palestinians together, to pressure Israel to leave, to stop the siege, and to let the Palestinian economy operate.

ANJALI KAMAT: Some would argue, however, that the Palestinian economy hasn’t been allowed to operate for several years now. Israeli journalist Amira Hass says we have to go back to the 1990s, the decade of the Oslo peace process.
AMIRA HASS: Israel started its policy of closure in ’91, but it became more and more draconian and brutal when the PA, when the Palestinian Authority, was established in ’94. It went alongside it. And the main Israeli aim in that policy of closure was to separate Gaza from the West Bank, to disconnect the two.
This implied that less Palestinians could find work in Israel or could have worked in Israel. It, of course, affected their job opportunities here in Gaza. And it turned an entire people into beggars. We’re talking about one million and a half, excluding some bureaucrats and some politruks. They are more dependent than ever on outside sources than on themselves. And this is how I see the devastation of Gaza. It’s not the food that gets here. It’s not the—it’s their ability to decide about their life, even in—I mean, we don’t live in a world where people can really decide about their lives, but there are degrees. And they are now on the bottom of this ladder of how much you can decide about your life, you can improve your life, you can develop, you can offer your children a better life than your own life.

ANJALI KAMAT: While the people of Gaza try to rebuild their shattered lives, their primary demands are for the borders to be opened and guarantees that Israel will not destroy their homes and factories and farms once again. And many, like Abu Omar, the owner of the tile factory, don’t want monetary or humanitarian aid from the international community, but solidarity in their struggle for justice and accountability.
ABU OMAR: [translated] We don’t want to beg the world for money. We just want to take those who destroyed our houses to court. If we are really criminals and our houses are terrorist houses, then OK, this is what you get. But if our houses are innocent and our factories are innocent, then the Israelis need to account for what they destroyed. They are the ones who should give us the reparations. Why do we need to rely on the sympathy of the world? We don’t want that. We want the world to stand by our rights. We don’t want their charity, little bits of money and food. We’re full, thank God. We are just asking for our rights, nothing else.
ANJALI KAMAT: For Democracy Now!, this is Anjali Kamat with Jacquie Soohen, and special thanks to Hany Massoud and Fida Qishta.

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Hamas Accuses Israel of Assassinating Top Hamas Official in Dubai
A top operative from Hamas has been killed in Dubai. Mahmoud Mabhouh was found dead in his room in a hotel on January 20. Hamas officials accused Israel of assassinating Mabhouh and of “moving the battlefield abroad.” His death occurred three days after an Israeli cabinet minister visited Abu Dhabi. Israel had accused Mabhouh of being involved in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and for delivering arms from Iran to Hamas.

Israel: No Indictments in Tristan Anderson Shooting Case
Israel’s Justice Ministry has announced no soldiers will be indicted for shooting an American activist last March in the West Bank. The activist, Tristan Anderson, was critically injured when Israeli soldiers fired a high-velocity tear gas canister directly at his head in March. Anderson was taking part in a weekly nonviolent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin.

Israeli Officers Disciplined for Using White Phosphorus in Gaza
In other news from the region, the Israeli army has disciplined two high-ranking officers for approving the use of white phosphorus shells during Israel’s assault on Gaza last year. The Israeli paper Haaretz reported that a military inquiry concluded that a division commander and a brigade commander endangered human life by firing the highly incendiary weapon toward a compound run by a UN aid agency.

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Israel to Build 600 New Homes in East Jerusalem Settlements
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced plans to expand settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Israel will build another 600 homes in the Palestinian area of Shuafat. The head of the Palestinian Authority press office, Ghassan Al-Khatib, said the Israeli move would violate international law.

Ghassan Al-Khatib: “The Israeli decision today of licensing another 600 settlement housing units in the areas between Jerusalem and Ramallah is yet another Israeli violation to the international law and another challenge to the American-led international efforts to resume a political process. It will not prevent us, the Palestinians, from continuing our efforts to build the institutions of the state in all the territories occupied in 1967 and to continue our peaceful, legal, public struggle against the Israeli settlement expansion and occupation.”


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