Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palestine Update: Gaza Wall of Separation With Egypt Destroyed; Jan. 26 Day of Action, etc.

8:24 MECCA TIME, 5:24 GMT

Gazans flood into Egypt

Security forces did not confront Palestinians who crossed over into Egypt on Wednesday

Palestinians have poured into the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing through holes blown by explosions along the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The scenes came on the sixth day of a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and backed by Egypt, in response to a spike in rocket attacks on Israeli border towns.

Before dawn on Wednesday, Palestinian fighters set off at least 15 explosions on the wall running through Rafah separating the two territories, Hamas security forces said.

The security forces later closed most holes, but left two open to allow the flow of human traffic.

UN fails to reach agreement

Amr El-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, said that Egyptian security forces did not take any action over the entry of Palestinians.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, later said he had ordered his troops to allow Palestinians to cross into Egypt because they were starving.

"I told them to let them come in and eat and buy food and then return them later as long as they were not carrying weapons," he said.

No confrontation

El-Kahky said: "Those crossing over have thanked Egypt for not confronting them. Many have bought with them containers for much needed fuel.

"They have also been told by the Hamas leadership in Gaza that they should respect Egyptian security forces, get what they need, and return to Gaza."

Al Jazeera correspondent Samir Omar said all shops in Rafah were open on Wednesday morning to enable Palestinians to buy food and medicines.

Omar said quoting witnesses that some Palestinians came only to stock up on basic necessities, but others might stay back in Rafah for some time to meet their relatives stranded in the Egyptian city of Arish.

On foot, in cars or riding donkey carts, the Palestinians went on a massive shopping spree, buying cigarettes, plastic bottles of fuel, and other items that have become scarce and expensive.

Israel expressed concern that fighters and weapons might be entering Gaza amid the chaos, and said responsibility for restoring order lay with Egypt.

Terminal stormed

The previous day, dozens of Hamas protesters had stormed the Rafah crossing, demanding that the terminal be opened to ease the blockade imposed on the territory by Israel.

Several protesters were wounded as Egyptian police opened fire in the air and used batons and water cannons to push them back.

Palestinians had complained that Gaza was under siege from both Israel and neighbouring Arabs.

Um Ahmad, a Palestinian woman demonstrating at the Rafah crossing, told Al Jazeera: "The Arabs should be united with us and not against us.

"This is an appeal to all the Arabs. They should help us lift the blockade, they should stand with us."

Talks to continue

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Tuesday that he would not pull out of peace talks with Israel because of the Gaza situation.

"Halting contacts with Israel is useless," he said in his first comment since the latest round of Israel-Hamas fighting erupted last week.

"On the contrary, we should intensify our contacts and our meetings to stop the suffering of our people."

Abbas also renewed his criticism of rocket fire against Israel from Gaza.

He said: "It is not the people who fire these rockets. We have condemned these futile launchings in the past and we continue to do so. They must stop."

For her part, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Tuesday that US officials had spoken to their Israeli counterparts "about the importance of not allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold".

Israeli officials were receptive, she said.

Rice blames Hamas for the situation in Gaza.

Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, pledged that the humanitarian shipments would go on.

"We will continue [on Wednesday] and the coming days to deliver more aid to Gaza until all promised supplies get across," he said.

Fuel supplies

On the ground, two lorries carrying cooking gas and three with diesel for generators passed through Israel's Nahal Oz border crossing, east of Gaza City, early on Tuesday.

It marked the first time supplies had entered Gaza since late on Thursday, when Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, ordered the territory sealed off in response to rocket fire.

Gaza City was plunged into darkness after its only power plant was shut down on Sunday, as fuel supplies dried up under the Israeli blockade.

But with Israel allowing limited supply, electricity was back in most of Gaza City by Tuesday afternoon.

Israeli tankers brought in 700,000 litres of fuel, enough to provide electricity to Gaza City for two days.

The Israeli defence ministry ruled late on Tuesday that 250,000 litres of diesel fuel could be transferred into Gaza daily.

However, the crossings would remain closed to other goods and people until further notice.

Israel has maintained all along that Hamas created an artificial crisis.

Palestinian rockets and the impact on Israel:

-Palestinian rockets are crude homemade weapons fired by Hamas and other fighters from Gaza into Israel, with a maximum range of 10km

-The rockets have killed 10 Israelis since 2005, while more than 700 Palestinians have died in Israeli raids over the same period

-Rocket attacks have increased sharply since April 2006

-Between 2,500-3,000 residents, out of 23,000, have fled Sderot because of the near-daily attacks

-The main impact of the rockets is psychological torment

Gaza power

-Israel normally supplies 60 per cent of the electricity for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants

-Gaza needs around 240 megawatt of electricity, but normally receives only about 200 megawatts, with 8 per cent from Egypt

-Israel is the only source of industrial fuel for Gaza's power station

-Israel stopped supplying industrial fuel supplies to Gaza on January 19

-The EU pays Israel around $10m per month for Gaza's industrial fuel

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Letter From Hannah Mermelstein

Dear all,

I'm sorry I haven't written since arriving in Palestine. The 2 weeks went quickly and I'm now in Jordan (where it's currently snowing). I'll write more about my work and thoughts when it seems relevant and inspired, but for now a focus on the one place in this region that is the hardest for me to go: Gaza.

On the last day of our Unplugged trip, we met with a Nakba survivor inside '48 (Israel) who has Israeli citizenship but is unable to return to his land because like most Palestinian land, it is now considered Israeli "state land" and managed by the Jewish National Fund.

We sat in this man's home, and before beginning our meeting about his experiences from 1948, he asked us all to rise for a moment of silence in solidarity with the people in Gaza, 12 of whom had been murdered that day by the Israeli army (not including the many dying each day due to lack of medical treatment).

We arrived in Jordan two days ago, and yesterday there was a huge demonstration in Wehdat refugee camp, where we're staying. Thousands of men and boys, and hundreds of women and girls, took to the streets with a lot of different flags that I don't quite know how to interpret yet, but with one unified message: end the siege of Gaza.

So while the separation of Palestinian people by geography has had some certain success, there is still a thread of connection. Whether that connection is reaching the US in any way I don't know. The situation in Gaza is truly dire.

I just saw an Al Jazeera report interviewing hospital patients who have declared that their death will come within days if their breathing machines don't get the electricity they need or if they don't get their medicine. I have heard similar stories here of Iraqis who have paid hundreds of dollars to take the hour-long flight to Jordan for needed medicine, only to be turned back at the airport. Both completely deliberate and preventable crises.

After watching Al Jazeera's Gaza report, I then turned to BBC, which was reporting an "easing" of the Gaza blockade (because 5 fuel trucks were allowed in in order to keep most people barely alive). I can only imagine what the news must be like in the US.

So, here are just a few links to information and action alerts I've received today:

Until soon,

Dear Abayomi ,

In response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis faced by the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, United for Peace and Justice is joining peace groups in Israel and around the world in a call for an international day of action on Saturday, January 26.

Many of the solidarity actions will be done as part of the US and World Social Forum Day of Action already scheduled for that day.

We urge that you share this email with others and urge them to take action. For more in-depth analysis and to join a protest in your area, click here:

Yours, in peace and justice,
Judith Le Blanc
UFPJ Organizing Coordinator

End the Siege on the People of Gaza: International Day of Action, Jan. 26

Call for a Comprehensive Ceasefire, End US Military Aid to Israel

Israel is continuing to escalate its attacks on Gaza, killing more than 40 Palestinians just this past week and wounding scores more, and has placed the already besieged territory under complete lockdown. That is eliminating what little access the population had to food, fuel, clean water and ever-more-urgent medical services. By Sunday Gaza's only power generator was shut down because of a lack of fuel; hospitals are starting to be affected and Palestinian medical officials have reported that five gravely ill patients have died.

Israel's announcement, under international pressure, that it would allow one day's worth of fuel to restart Gaza's only power generating plant does not mean an end to the crisis; Gaza will remain desperate as Israel continues to use access to vitally needed fuel and other goods as a weapon of occupation to impose collective punishment on the entire population of Gaza.

The conditions in Gaza have become desperate, and international solidarity organizations in London, Rome and elsewhere around the world are mobilizing to demand an end to the siege of Gaza in protests on January 26. That same day Israeli peace groups are organizing an emergency convoy to try to break the siege.

Israel's increasing attacks on Gaza -- the economic blockade and military assaults -- are not in response to the rocket attacks from Gaza. The Israeli attacks, and Israel's continuing occupation-through-siege of Gaza, are the reason for the rocket fire in the first place. But even if the Israeli attacks were in response to Gaza rockets, such a response would still be illegal (collective punishment is always illegal), disproportionate, and ultimately futile.

U.S. military support bolsters Israel's occupation and enables the current escalating punishment. The U.S. must stop all military aid to Israel, and demand that Israel end its collective punishment and indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population of Gaza.

Further, the U.S. must push for a comprehensive ceasefire that covers all the occupied Palestinian territories. Otherwise, the U.S. will continue to be vilified for its support of collective punishment and attacks on civilians, U.S. citizens will be seen by the rest of the world as complicit in major human rights violations, and any future talks about "peace" will be viewed as providing continuing support for an Israeli-imposed military settlement.


Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at 202-647-7209. Demand:

-An immediate end to the assault on Gaza, and the opening of its border crossings to people and goods.
-A comprehensive ceasefire that covers all territories and all parties to the conflict.

-An end to U.S. military aid to Israel. Oppose the new $30 billion military aid package to Israel by clicking here:

Call your national as well as your local media:

Demand coverage of what's going on in the Occupied Palestinian territories. This is particularly important since the Israeli lock-down of Gaza has resulted in very little news emerging of the most recent attacks.

-Write a letter to the editor in response to an article in your paper using the talking points in this action alert.

For media contact information, click here:

If your group has consultative status at the United Nations, call the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

-Demand that the UN hold Israel, as a member state, accountable for its human rights violations.

-Protest the Secretary-General's statement of January 17, 2008, repeated on January 18, in which he demanded an "immediate halt" to Palestinian rocket and sniper fire from Gaza, but only urged "maximum restraint" from the Israeli occupation forces assaulting Gaza. In both statements he "reminds all parties of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians," without acknowledging the different obligations between an occupied population and an occupying power already violating numerous UN resolutions that demand an end to the occupation itself.

Contact: Office of the Secretary General, Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar at or 1-212-963-8922.

Find out about the January 26 convoy that will try to break the siege of Gaza with food and medicine:

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