Homeless in Gaza
From a correspondent lately in Gaza: To most people the name of Gaza brings a picture of blind Samson pulling down the pillars of the house upon the Philistines and himself.
Today, the reputed tomb of Samson is inhabited by a family of Arab refugees. They form part of the horde of some 200,000 people from Palestine who poured into the "Gaza Strip" in 1948, during the troubles between the Arabs and Jews which broke out after the partition plan was announced.
. In December 1948, the United Nations Assembly resolved that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so." The Arab League took its stand on this and insisted on the refugees' repatriation as a condition of peace negotiations. It has since taken a more realistic view and, while still maintaining the principle of repatriation, has agreed that efforts shall be made to resettle the refugees in the lands where they now are.
. The only exit from the Gaza Strip, which is hemmed in by Israel, is to Egypt, and there the refugees are not welcome. They are virtually imprisoned in the area, their only means of escape being a dangerous moonlight flit through Jewish territory.
. Colonel Howard Kennedy concluded his report to the United Nations Political Committee on November I with the words: As director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, I feel it my duty to bring these matters to the attention of the United Nations, because explosive forces are being generated which should be dealt with before the point of detonation is reached . Grave difficulties and dangers elsewhere should not blind us to this great human tragedy of the Middle ."if the refugees be left forgotten and desolate in their misery, peace will recede yet farther from these distracted lands". - The Times [March 2, 1951], Times Archive
Gaza escape route choked with Arab refugees
From our (The Times) correspondent in Tel Aviv, Nov 1 (Delayed) 1956: Gaza, with its minarets and white houses glowing through green palm fronds, looked like a pretty Oriental picture. There was a lemon-coloured sky with a low sun turning red and thrusting broad, fanlike rays into the sea. The only sound was of sparrows somewhere, settling down. But the watcher, standing on a ploughed hillside about a mile out of the town, could not long be unaware of the presence of other concealed watchers. Here and there, in the dry grasses, a slight movement could be detected, perhaps of a steel helmet, perhaps of the muzzle of some weapon. Then, just as the red sun brushed the surface of the sea, the pretty scene exploded. Aircraft had come out of the sky and smoke and dust spouted out of the earth round Gaza like huge, spreading shrubs. There was the sound of bursting bombs, of anti-aircraft fire, of light artillery and mortars. The Israelis attack on Gaza and the Gaza Strip had begun.
. It became evident, as darkly flashing Spitfires and Mustangs dived over Gaza and violet dust rose where shells and bombs had just burst, that the Israelis were simultaneously putting the defences of Gaza out of action and lunging across the southern part of the corridor, which is about 25 miles long and of varying width, to cut off the only line of retreat. That line had dwindled a few thousand yards by the time the sun had set. It ran then through the narrow opening between El Arish and the sea. Earlier this afternoon that narrow gateway was choked with fleeing Arab refugees, bare-footed or riding distracted donkeys. Many of the refugees had taken to the sea in frail little boats... - The Times [Nov 2, 1956], Times Archive
As reported in the Guardian (London) on October 17, 2002:
An embryonic US peace initiative for the Middle East was shattered yesterday as Palestinian militants assassinated an Israeli cabinet minister seen as an icon of the far right. According to the New York Times: Zeevi was elected to Parliament in 1988, after proposing that the problems [of Israel] could be solved if most Arabs were transferred, if not directly expelled, to regions east of the Jordan River. His public statements were uncompromising: Mr Arafat was a 'viper', 'scorpion' or 'Hitler'. In July, as minister of tourism, he suggested that Palestinians working in Israel illegally were 'lice' and a 'cancer'. As I said at the time, Zeevi's death gave Sharon the excuse that he had been waiting for to destroy Gaza, demolish Jenin and generally terrorise the Palestinians. In his autobiography published in 1989, Sharon said he "wanted to prove that Jewish blood could no longer be shed with impunity. From this point on, there would be a heavy price to pay." That was in regard to a village whose inhabitants he had murdered in 1953. In 2002, after blasting Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah he said, "The Palestinians must be dealt a heavy blow, which will come from every direction. Anyone wishing to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians must first hit them hard, so that it is clear to them that they will achieve nothing through terror. If it is not made clear to them that they are overpowered, we will be unable to return to negotiations." (Before the latest onslaught Israel's leaders used almost identical words to explain why Hamas had to be destroyed.) Sharon's demolitions of houses, of farms, the harassment of the Red Cross, the targeted assassinations continued, provoking the expected 'terrorist' response. The aim was to demolish the Palestinian Authority once and for all and to take out Arafat if possible. One of the results of Sharon's 2002 campaign was the destruction of the credibility of Arafat's Fatah and the promotion of Hamas.
The frame of reference for the pro-Israel camp is Israel's right to exist, while the context for the pro-Palestine argument is the perceived injustice underlying modern Israel's creation. At the core of the conflict is the reality that redress for the Jewish victims of centuries of European pogroms, which culminated in the Holocaust, made victims out of Palestinians, non-Europeans who had nothing to do with the repression of Jews on the Continent. The central, unbridgeable chasm between the two sides is captured in the divergent narratives of events surrounding Israel's birth. Did the Zionists perpetrate pre-planned, deliberate ethnic cleansing, without which the Jewish state could not have been Jewish? Or was it merely the winds of war that created Palestinian refugees, a phenomenon for which Israel's founding fathers bear no responsibility? Taking the latter question first raises yet another question. If, as the Zionist narrative claims, the Palestinian exodus was self-propelled, a flight of panic induced by fear of the ravages of war, does that negate the right of return? Doesn't the world - at its forefront America - support the right of millions of Iraqi war refugees to return to their homes? . the majority of Gaza's inhabitants are refugees (or their descendants) who were displaced from their homes in 1947-1948 in what was then Palestine and is now Israel. Whether it was ethnic cleansing or self-induced flight, Israel disallows them the basic human right to return to their homes, for no other reason than the fact that they are not Jewish. - Tarif Abboushi, Houston Chronicle, Jan 2, 2009, 9:30 pm
. The White House said only Hamas could end the cycle of violence by putting a stop to the rocket fire on Israel. "These people are nothing but thugs, and so Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said at George W Bush's Texas ranch, where the president is preparing to spend the new year.
. In the working-class border town of Sderot, which has been targeted by relentless Gaza rocket salvoes, residents were pleased with the military offensive.
"It's about time," said Victor Turjeman, a 33-year-old electrician. "We've been waiting for this for eight years." Sderot has been pounded with several thousand projectiles since 2001. The rockets have killed eight, injured hundreds more and made daily life unbearable. Turjeman said his four children have been traumatised by the near daily attacks, his home has been damaged and his brother had a heart attack after a rocket exploded nearby. He fears escalation, but said he was consoled that Hamas was finally being punished. "We should keep pounding them until they beg for mercy," Turjeman said. "As far as I'm concerned, all of Gaza can be erased." - Associated Press, December 30
. Furious and frightened after thousands of projectiles had rained down on the south over several years, Israelis yearned for a traditional Zionist warrior to rally around and send a harsh message to Hamas. For months, Mr Barak, the natural candidate for that warrior role, declined. - "Gaza War Role Is Political Lift for Ex-Premier", Ethan Bronner, New York Times, January 7, 2009
. This is the harshest IDF assault on Gaza since the territory was captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. ... From Israel's standpoint, Hamas, which persistently fires rockets while using the civilian population as cover, had plenty of opportunities to save face and lower their demands. In stubbornly continuing to launch rockets during the course of recent weeks, it brought this assault on itself. - Haaretz, December 27, 2008
. "We will stand up, we will defend our own people, we will defend our land, and we will not give up," senior Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said. Hamdan also denied accusations that Hamas had provoked Israel attacks by violating the ceasefire with rocket attacks. "Hamas did not fire rockets through the ceasefire. It's clear that the one who violated the ceasefire is the Israelis," Hamdan told CNN. "For half the period of ceasefire, they closed all the checkpoints, and they killed 28 Palestinians." - CNN, January 4, 2008
. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi also accused Israel of ignoring the terms of the cease-fire that expired December 19.
"This is certainly a very cruel escalation, a relentless bombardment of a captive civilian population that has already been under siege for months, that has been deprived of basic requirements like food and medicines and fuel and power," she said from Ramallah in the West Bank. Christopher Gunness, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman, said the idea that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza was absurd. "The organisation for which I work - UNRWA - has approximately 9,000 to 10,000 workers on the ground. They are speaking with the ordinary civilians in Gaza... People are suffering. A quarter of all those being killed now are civilians. So when I hear people say we're doing our best to avoid civilian casualties that rings very hollow indeed." About 250,000 people in the northern part of Gaza are also reported to be without electricity. The main power plant has been shut down for lack of fuel due to Israel's blockade.
. Heba, a Gaza resident and mother of two, told Al Jazeera there was no place left in Gaza that can be considered safe.
"What happened in the school was a hugely offensive and inhumane thing. We never expected that people who sought refuge in a UN building would be attacked and killed," she said. Randa Seniora, from the Independent Commission on Human Rights, told Al Jazeera: "What is happening in Gaza are crimes against humanity. "Israel cannot claim, as an occupying authority, that it is acting in self-defence because simply it is considered a war crime to create harm and damage among civilian populations." - Al Jazeera
. Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, branding the incident "unacceptable" said, "These attacks by Israeli military forces which endanger UN facilities acting as places of refuge are totally unacceptable, and should not be repeated.
"Equally unacceptable are any actions by Hamas militants which endanger the Palestinian civilian population," he said, before again calling for an immediate ceasefire. Half the population of Gaza consists of children under 17 years old.