‘While you are in Gaza, please visit Gilad Shalit. He is the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped from outside Gaza 5 years ago, and has been held by Hamas without visits by anyone, including the Red Cross or Red Crescent, in violation of international law. I trust you are committed to human rights for all, and this small gesture should be quite easy to do as compared with the magnitude of arranging your flotilla. I look forward to seeing your video or photos or voice recording evidencing that Gilad is being treated well and is in good health.’
I thought about Shalit quite often as I traveled around Gaza. Though the writer of the email assumed I was unaware of the prisoner or his circumstance, it was not true. I knew he was just a teenager when captured. I knew he was a combatant- a gunner in a tank on the border of Gaza. I knew he was taken prisoner, not kidnapped.
I thought about the fear he faced as he was dragged from his tank 5 years ago, and his uncertain days imprisoned since then, days spent without family, without friends, without any contact with outside agencies. I tried to imagine the yearly landmarks; the birthdays, the anniversaries, the myriad dates and shared memories that mark our movement through life, passing without acknowledgement. I tried to imagine what his parents were going through, not knowing his condition or circumstance.
Even in Gaza, Shalit’s name comes up often. I attended the weekly demonstration of prisoners families held outside the ICRC every Monday. Mothers, fathers, wives, and children hold photos or posters of loved ones imprisoned in Israel for months, years, some for decades. A gentleman, recognizing I was from the U.S., said sarcastically, “Don’t these people know there is only one prisoner? His name is Shalit.”
Since 1967, 700,000 Palestinians have been “detained” by Israel. Currently 7000 people are imprisoned. 37 of them are women; over 300 of them are children.
When I visited the Ministry of Detainees in Gaza City I was challenged by the minister to name another region of the world where such a ministry was needed. The minister explained that this was an issue particular to Palestine because Israel imprisons so many people without charges and through military courts where evidence is hidden and trials are rigged. Many are convicted on coerced confessions. The minister’s position was that all prisoners, including Shalit, be treated with respect and dignity.
I was introduced to Umm Ahmed through Doa’a, a Ministry official who coordinates the weekly demonstrations at the ICRC. Umm Ahmed’s 19-year-old son, a university student, is imprisoned in Israel for just over a year. His story is not unique.
Ahmed was seriously injured during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Families near the buffer zone were given permission by the Israelis to leave their homes to get supplies. Umm Ahmed and her family were returning to their home. Half of the family members had come inside. Ahmed, and 3 cousins remained in the doorway when the drones were heard overhead, followed quickly by 2 missile strikes. Ahmed and one cousin were gravely injured, blasted into the alcove of the home. Ahmed’s abdomen was eviscerated, he had lost an eye and several fingers, and he was bleeding profusely from shrapnel wounds all over his body. No ambulances were in the area. Family members scooped up the broken bodies and rushed them to the hospital. On arrival, Umm Ahmed was told her son was dead.
Ahmed, despite his injuries, managed to cling to life. After emergency surgery he was transferred to the hospital in Al-Arish, Egypt where he underwent 10 surgeries in 10 months, including the removal of his pancreas, leaving him diabetic and dependent on insulin injections for the remainder of his life. On his return to Gaza, suffering from life threatening infections to his wounded arm and hand, the family sought additional treatment outside Gaza. It proved impossible to have him transferred to Europe, but after several attempts he received permission from Israel to travel to Jerusalem for the needed treatment.
On the day of his departure, November 25, 2009, his mother prepared food for him, adhering to a new diet specifically for diabetics. When he departed with his brother and father for Erez crossing, she followed him out the door, hugging him tightly. When she let go, she sensed something terrible was about to happen.
Shortly after 4pm when Ahmed, his brother and father reached Erez, Umm Ahmed received a call from her son, asking for Mohammed, the eldest brother. Umm Ahmed asked, “What is it? Is something wrong with Ahmed?” Her son hesitated then told her Ahmed had been taken at the crossing and was in Israeli custody.
The soldiers demanded that Ahmed and his father both strip naked. Ahmed, in his wheelchair, needed his father’s assistance to comply. Ahmed, though missing fingers on one hand and suffering from infections to his hand and elbow, was handcuffed and taken away. His father would not see him again. Ahmed’s father demanded Ahmed be released and allowed to return to Gaza. He was literally thrown out of the crossing and told to return to Gaza without his son. Without recourse, Ahmed’s father returned home.
Unlike Shalit who was taken by Palestinian fighters while on active duty in a tank on the Gaza border, the Israeli’s took Ahmed as he attempted to get treatment for wounds incurred at Israeli hands. Many Palestinians are ‘detained’, or perhaps my email writer’s term is more appropriate, ‘kidnapped’, by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, from their cars, or from their beds in the middle of the night, and taken to Israel. Although the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power’s territory is illegal under international law, all Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israel.
Ahmed was held under investigation for 38 days as the Israeli’s tried to elicit a confession. Regardless of his injuries, he was blindfolded, handcuffed, and routinely denied his medications. He suffered through diabetic comas throughout the 38 days. He did not confess. He was found guilty of monitoring Israeli activities in the buffer zone and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison.
Since Hamas won an electoral decision in 2006, family visitation rules were tightened. Since 2007 all Gaza families have been denied visitation. In December 2009, the Israeli Court ruled that the right to family visits in prison is not within the “Framework of the basic humanitarian needs of the residents of the Strip, which Israel is obligated to enable” and that there was no need for family visits since prisoners could obtain basic supplies through the prison canteen. So like gunner Shalit, 700 other families have been denied visitation with their sons, daughters and children.
Umm Ahmed is concerned that her son is receiving inadequate treatment for his diabetes. It has been regularly reported that security prisoners receive inadequate food- both in quality and quantity. Regarding medical care, the Israeli prison authority has adopted a policy of systemic negligence in all its facilities. Prisons are extremely understaffed by medical personnel and visits to a doctor can take weeks, with actual treatment taking months. For a prisoner suffering from diabetes this can be deadly. Ahmed also needs constant care to treat infections resulting from all the shrapnel wounds to his body. Upon his detention, Ahmed spent 3 months in the hospital as a result of his mistreatment. While hospitalized it was determined he needs an operation to control his diabetes. In order to get an operation, Ahmed must wait. Ar-Ramleh prison hospital has a limited number of beds. Because of his inadequate diet and medication regime (most ill and injured prisoners live on aspirin, painkillers, and tranquilizers), his health continues to deteriorate. Though the operation has not yet been scheduled, the family has already been notified that Ahmed will not be released from prison until the fees for the operation are paid in full.
When Ban Ki-Moon visited Gaza in March of 2010, Umm Ahmed and her husband met with him and explained the situation of their son. Because of this meeting and the negative publicity it triggered for Israel, the family has received only sporadic news of their son. For the last 5 months they have heard nothing. The parents are anxiously awaiting word of their son.
I left Gaza without managing a visit with Shalit. But I left with the knowledge of thousands of Gilad Shalits in Israeli prisons. Many, like Ahmed, have no involvement in military operations. They were not dragged from their tanks, but were dragged from their cars, dragged from their beds, even dragged from their wheelchairs. Hundreds are children. They too, deserve basic humanitarian considerations. They too, deserve to be treated with decency and their health maintained. Their families also deserve answers and consideration. Shalit may be the only prisoner Americans have heard of, but he is not alone.
- Johnny Barber has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria & Gaza to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war. Visit: www.oneBrightpearl-jb.blogspot.com.
After extensive correspondence between Palestinian human rights groups and the Israeli authorities, Israel agreed to return several fishing vessels confiscated off the coast of Gaza.
On 2 August, Israel brought the stolen ships to the Karem Abu Salem crossing with Gaza to return the ships to their owners. However, the boats had been stripped of their motors and fishing equipment; in some cases the missing equipment was worth thousands of dollars.
Israel also attempted to charge the boat owners for transportation fees to the Karem Abu Salem crossing — therefore the Palestinian fishermen refused the Israeli receipts for their vessels and returned to Gaza without their ships.
The Palestinian rights groups Adalah and Al Mezan released a statement on 4 August explaining that the returned boats had been confiscated from eight fishermen over the course of 18 months.
The Electronic Intifada has continuously covered Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza fishermen and the fishing industry. Israel has arrested fishermen, shot them dead and more recently attacked a small ship carrying human rights observers monitoring Israel’s harassment of fishermen.
In addition to physically attacking Gaza fishermen, Israel has prevented them from rightfully accessing deep sea waters — decimating the fishing industry, robbing Palestinians in Gaza of self-sufficiency and depriving Palestinians in Gaza from an affordable source of protein.
Israel’s attacks on the Gaza fishing industry takes place in the wider context of its systematic decimation of Gaza’s economy, through denying exports from the besieged territory, and through the bombardment of agricultural areas.
An Israeli foot patrol has crossed into Lebanon in clear violation of the country’s sovereignty and a UN Security Council resolution.
Israeli troops crossed the UN-drawn Blue Line and entered the southern village of Kfar Shouba on Monday, moving 150 meters into Lebanon, a Press TV correspondent reported.
According to Lebanese sources, the 12 Israeli soldiers left the Lebanese territory after 30 minutes.
The violation of Lebanon’s airspace, territorial waters, and border by the Israeli Military occurs on an almost daily basis.
Earlier this month, Beirut submitted a complaint to the United Nations Security Council over Israel’s violation of the country’s sovereignty. The move came after an Israeli army convoy crossed the border and entered the Wazzani area in southern Lebanon, which led to clashes with the Lebanese army.
The Lebanese foreign ministry described the incident as a clear violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, UN Security Council resolution 1701, and the international law. It also said the incident represented a threat to civil and international peace.
The Lebanese government, the Hezbollah Resistance Movement, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, have repeatedly cited Israel’s air surveillance flights over Lebanon as flagrant violations of UN resolution 1701 and the country’s sovereignty.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s war against Lebanon in 2006, calls on Israel to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Top Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein has denied the existence of Jewish roots in the city of Jerusalem, contrary to Israel’s claims that have prompted continued Judaization of the city.
Finkelstein, a professor at Tel Aviv University, said Jewish archaeologists have failed to unearth historic sites to support some of the stories in the Torah. Among those stories are the Jewish Exodus, the forty-year wandering in the Sinai desert, and Joshua’s victory over the Canaanites.
He also said there was no archaeological evidence that concludes that the alleged Temple of Solomon ever existed.
For his part, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University Raphael Greenberg said that the Israelis should have found something after digging for six weeks in the City of David in East Jerusalem’s Silwan district, but have found nothing in two years of continuous excavations.
Prof. Yoni Mihrazi, an independent archaeologist who has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed with Finkelstein’s findings, saying that top settler organization Elad had not stumbled upon even a banner saying “welcome to the city of David”, given that claims were made to have been relying on sacred texts to guide them in their work.
- Israeli Eradication of History: Disappearing Mosques (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Palestinian cemetery destroyed for new TAU dorms, shopping center (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israeli Scholar Disputes Founding Myth (consortium news)
Managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Ahmad Qalebani says a new gas field has been discovered in eastern Asalouyeh.
“The gas field, named Madar and located 15 kilometers east of Asalouyeh, has reserves of about 495 billion cubic meters of gas,” Qalebani said on Monday.
Qalebani estimated the value of the gas field at USD 133 billion, Fars News Agency reported.
In June, Iran discovered Khayyam gas field with in-place reserves of 277 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the southeastern port city of Asalouyeh in Hormozgan Province.
The Islamic Republic discovered 13 new oil and gas fields with in-place reserves of 14 billion barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from August 2009 to August 2010, Iran’s Oil Ministry reported.
Iran has 137.6 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and 29.61 trillion cubic meters of proven gas reserves. It has the world’s third largest oil reserves and second largest gas reserves.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Tension is running high in the holy Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem after Jewish settlers stormed and roamed the plazas of the holy site at the early morning hours on Monday.
The Aqsa guards said that Israeli occupation police escorted the groups of settlers who were roaming the mosque in provocative tours.
They said that the policemen were barricading the settlers in face of the angry Muslim worshipers, who were preparing to confront the settlers.
Israeli policemen and special forces broke into the holy site on Sunday night and forced out worshipers for the third straight night.
ASMARA, Eritrea—Most people in Africa spend most of their income on food. With food prices rising by over 50 percent, drought is not the only cause of hunger in the Horn of Africa. While southern Ethiopia, home to half of Ethiopia’s 80 million people, is suffering under its worst drought and famine in 60 years, residents in the northern capital of Addis Ababa are feeling the pinch of hunger due to near record high food prices.
Yet next door to Ethiopia in Eritrea, where we have been living since 2006, there exists an island of food security where grain prices have fallen by half and hunger has become a thing of the past.
Why is it that, according to Sukhwinder Singh Toor, the IMF capo in Addis Ababa in 2010, Ethiopia needs over $7 billion in aid a year yet millions starve, while neighboring Eritrea gets a tiny fraction of that and staple grain prices are falling dramatically?
While in early 2011 the UN Famine Early Warning System predicted millions would be starving in the southern half of Ethiopia the Meles Zenawi regime in power in Addis Ababa was exporting food, over 10,000 tons of rice in 2010 to Saudi Arabia alone.
Land in Ethiopia, good land, can be bought by foreigners from the government for a song, even less if leased for 99 years, putting another $100 million or more into the pockets of p.m. Meles Zenawi and his cronies. All the while basics like wheat, barley, sorghum and chick peas become so expensive malnutrition rates for children spike.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of the Nile river, yet millions starve while in Eritrea, mostly semi-arid, some 60 percent of the country’s food is produced via micro dam fed irrigation systems, beginning to break the age old dependency on the rains to feed the people.
The drought maps for the Horn of Africa show an area running from Sudan to Ethiopia to Somalia and even Kenya yet in its midst, unnoticed by those reading their teleprompters on the news channels there exists an island the size of Britain where affordable bread is there for all and slowly but steadily, life gets better.
Johnny Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, may claim famine rages in Eritrea but then he also says Ethiopia’s economy continues to grow by double digits annually and never mentions a figure for the number of Ethiopian children that die every day of starvation.
Life expectancy in Ethiopia is falling, maybe plunging is a better word, while even the World Bank uses words like “dramatic” to describe the improvements in life expectancy in Eritrea. Eritrea is one of the very few countries in the world that will meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), especially in the area of health for its children, malaria mortality prevention and reduction of AIDS.
Hillary Clinton may call Eritrea a dictatorship and Ethiopia a democracy but if one measures human rights by access to clean drinking water, food, shelter and medical care rather than stuffed ballot boxes and fixed elections, then the descriptions would have to be reversed.
The Horn of Africa may be the Horn of Hunger for millions but in the midst of all the drought, starvation and suffering there lives and grows an island of food security, little Eritrea and its 5 million people.
Unfortunately, none of this may be enough to prevent the UN inSecurity Council from passing even tougher sanctions against Eritrea in an attempt to damage the Eritrean economy and, inevitably, hurt the Eritrea people. This is all done, once again, in the name of fighting the War on Terror, or more accurately, the War on the Somali people.