UN to Israel: Let us Rebuild Gaza Schools

Mark Regev has been claiming pretty much since day one that the IDF has been allowing supplies to get into Gaza so that NGOs and other authories in the occupied territories can begin rebuilding efforts. Well, we all know that’s not true. Indeed only recently have people like Tony Blair, managed to put some pressure on the Israelis to get some supplies in, but let’s see how long that lasts.

In the meantime life continues to blow in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison. For example, the UN has just issued a press release calling upon the IDF to ease some of its restrictions on imports to Gaza so that they (the UN) can help to rebuild schools destroyed during the Israeli invation in late December\Early January.

From the press release:

The 18 schools that were completely destroyed and the 280 others that were damaged in the Israeli military offensive six months ago have not been rebuilt or rehabilitated because of restrictions placed on the movement of reconstruction materials and other supplies into Gaza, according to a joint news release issued by various UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In north Gaza, 9,000 students from 15 damaged schools have been spread among 73 schools in the same area, with 4,000 of them squeezed into two schools, and some 1,200 secondary students running the risk of being left without a school next month.

“The blockade has caused untold suffering to children in Gaza, who face another academic year in terrible conditions,” said Philippe Lazzarini, acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator of the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) in the joint statement.

More on the UN press release here.

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Breaking the Silence: IDF Soldiers testify on War Crimes in Gaza

You would be hard pressed to have heard about this story if your daily media diet solely consists of the American mainstream variety, but Israeli and other international media have been reporting today on a new document issued by the Israeli group, “Breaking the Silence,” accusing the IDF of committing war crimes in its Gaza operations in late 2008 and early 2009.

The document published by the Israeli group contains anonymous testimonies of Israeli soldiers dismayed at what they observed during the Gaza conflict.

From the Breaking the Silence report:

Did he make any distinction between civilians and terrorists?
That, too, was mentioned later, not at the same talk, that if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy. You exercise judgment. The first house we entered contained not a single enemy. We fired at windows and fire was not returned. So we went in and opened it the way we usually go at a house in Hebron: we go in, call out to the owner to open, gather all the males, shackle them, gather the entire family in one room and begin to search the house. This is not something that is usually done in war.

When you entered a house, did you know what you were supposed to do differently from other areas in the West Bank? How is this different?
When you enter a house, the idea is that it contains an enemy. You’re supposed to shoot your way in. We didn’t do this in the first house because we had opened fire and no fire was returned. So we assumed there was no one there. Then we knocked on the door and told them to call everyone downstairs, gathered them in a room and combed the place securely, looking for incriminating materials: weapons, posters, propaganda stuff.

Whom did you find in the house?
Men, women and children. This was our first objective in the operation plan. We walked in, reached the neighborhood and began the offensive advance. While you’re attacking you shoot a lot even while encountering no one. You make sure you’re not being surprised. Say we entered a hothouse and are securing it: you cut a hole and enter the hothouse, shooting at the plant rows. You’re not on automatic fire, but you do give a few bursts to make sure you won’t be surprised.

As is to be expected, the IDF and the Israeli government reacted with great skepticism to the testimonies of the Breaking the Silence soldiers. Spokespersons for the government and the IDF maintain that the Gaza War (known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead and in Arab Societies as the Gaza Massacre) was legal under international law and that soldiers who witnessed war crimes should go through the proper channels and file complaints.

Writing in The Guardian, Breaking the Silence critic Dan Kosky wrote:

Precedent shows that the IDF is not immune from censure, and Israel is very open to self-examination, where warranted. The Winograd Commission which followed the 2006 Lebanon war was highly critical of both Israel’s military and political leadership. In contrast, Breaking the Silence’s half-baked research and the undeserved attention it is receiving thanks to funding from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv and the EU, is an illegitimate basis for such soul searching.

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Is an Israeli attack on Iran Imminent?

Ever since Barack Obama was elected President many have argued that it would be extremely difficult for the Israeli Air Force to attack Iran since they would:

1) have to get America’s permission to fly over Iraqi air space to accomplish their bombing mission.

2) If America said “no” the Israelis would have to fly over Saudi Arabia or Iraq without alerting the more sophisticated American Air Force that would be obliged to escort the Israeli bombers back to Israel.

But two pieces of news have emerged this weekend that seems to imply that two major binds have been broken for Israel’s war apparatus vis-a-vis its efforts to attack Iran.

The first  was Vice-President Joe Biden’s interview with George Stephanopoulos this Sunday in Baghdad where the Veep declared, “Israel can determine for itself - it’s a sovereign nation - what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.”

Biden is well known for saying things he shouldn’t say, but anyone who knows anything about American-Israeli relations knows that Israel almost never takes major military action without first consulting with the United States.

But what is more telling of a possible strike is the huge news from Times of London which reports that Saudi Arabia has granted Israel the right to use it’s airspace for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

From the report:

Although the countries have no formal diplomatic relations, an Israeli defence source confirmed that Mossad maintained “working relations” with the Saudis.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who recently visited the Gulf, said it was “entirely logical” for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace.

Bolton, who has talked to several Arab leaders, added: “None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn’t trumpet it as a big success.”

Arab states would condemn a raid when they spoke at the UN but would be privately relieved to see the threat of an Iranian bomb removed, he said.

It’s my view that any strike against Iran will inevitably bring disaster to the entire region. Moreover, it will put a permanent nail in the coffin of Iran’s now surging reformist movement.

Ultimately all of this could be psychological warfare. As with everything in the Middle East, only time will tell.

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