Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Franciscan International’s oral statement for the Ninth Special Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation in Gaza

Franciscans International (FI) would like to express its deep concern about the recent events in Gaza and Southern Israel that have led to the loss of hundreds of civilian lives. The escalation of violence has completely disregarded the most basic principles of International Humanitarian Law leading to the present humanitarian tragedy.
FI calls upon Israel and the Hamas leadership to immediately cease hostilities. The ceasefire is absolutely necessary in order to prevent the further targeting of the civilian population. This is true in the Southern Israeli towns attacked by rockets launched - Call on Israel to fully cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967;
- Review in its forthcoming March session the steps undertaken by the concerned actors to implement its recommendations.
While this emergency calls for intense diplomacy to bring about a cessation of all violence, the international community must not think that it will have met its responsibility by brokering only a localised ceasefire. Rather, its greater responsibility is to bring about a genuine peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, within a regional framework, which alone can make such a peace possible and secure. by Hamas and even more so in Gaza given the disproportionate military offensive by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
This military offensive has led to the deaths of nearly 900 Palestinians (a large number of them civilians, including children), almost 4,000 wounded and tens of thousands displaced in shelters or staying with host families. Essential civilian infrastructure including hospitals and those related to the provision of water and electricity has been damaged or destroyed. The military offensive adds further suffering to the civilian population in Gaza enduring the blockade, which prevents for example the arrival of food and medicines, making their humanitarian situation even more difficult. FI firmly believes that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not rely on the use of force, which is not the way to achieve long lasting peace.
FI calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to:
- Condemn the targeting of civilians by both sides;
- Urge Israel and Hamas leadership to durably cease all hostilities, and to fully respect the principles of International Humanitarian Law;
- Considering the humanitarian and human rights consequences, urge Israel to:
o Allow full access to Gaza to humanitarian agencies;
o Lift the blockade;
o Cease all measures that amount to collective punishment of the civilian population;
- Call on Israel to fully cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967;
- Review in its forthcoming March session the steps undertaken by the concerned actors to implement its recommendations.
While this emergency calls for intense diplomacy to bring about a cessation of all violence, the international community must not think that it will have met its responsibility by brokering only a localised ceasefire. Rather, its greater responsibility is to bring about a genuine peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, within a regional framework, which alone can make such a peace possible and secure.
- Call on Israel to fully cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967;
- Review in its forthcoming March session the steps undertaken by the concerned actors to implement its recommendations.
While this emergency calls for intense diplomacy to bring about a cessation of all violence, the international community must not think that it will have met its responsibility by brokering only a localised ceasefire. Rather, its greater responsibility is to bring about a genuine peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, within a regional framework, which alone can make such a peace possible and secure.

Israel and Gaza: who should we demonize?

A friend of mine emailed me about my comments regarding the Israeli offensive in Gaza. He suggested that I had the wrong end of the stick, and pointed me to several articles that supported Israel, and demonised Hamas.
I wrote this long response, and post it here for further comment.

Thanks Antony for the article
However, I think the writer has got the wrong end of the stick. It saddens me to think that anyone can support the use of force by either side as a way to achieving peace. And it saddens me even more when Christians do it.

To comment on the article. Israel withdrew from Gaza, which was occupied territory, because it was difficult to continue to protect the settlers, and because it meant they could say they are withdrawing their settlers in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions, while leaving the major settlements on the West Bank. (Those settlements mean that there will never be a free Palestinian State on the West Bank, but isolated cities surrounded by Israel, and at the mercy of Israel in terms of who and what can come and go) What the writer fails to point out is that Israel continues to control nearly all access to Gaza, and has held the border closed for the least two years at least, and Egypt has followed suit. Before that the UN already estimated that least 80% of those who live in Gaza live under the poverty line, with no hope of ever doing anything about that. The basic infrastructure (what there was) has been destroyed by Israel over many years. It remains one of the mostly occupied pieces of land on this earth. As one writer suggested, this is an open air prison, where the those who live there are treated worse than many prisons in the west. And so I wonder, what would I do in that situation? What would you do in this situation, if you lived in poverty, with no hope, held there by a military power that continue to show no mercy or compassion. Would you sit quietly? Or would you try to find a way to fight back.
I am not sure what I would do. I would hope that I did not support violence. It is not the answer here for either side. But I understand why Palestinians have resorted to it.

The article suggests that this bombardment was an effective way to stop the rocket fire. You really think that is the case. That killing 1300 people will stop Hamas? While break the resolve of Palestinians. They have not hope. Why not die fighting the people who cause their misery. This assault will not stop the rocket fire. Worse, it will make the cause of the moderate Palestinian much more difficult. Gaza is a hot bed for freedom fighters/terrorists, (when I was in Israel 3 years ago doing a tour with Jewish tour guides, I was surprised when the Jewish terrorists of the 1940’s who set of bombs and killed British soldiers and innocent civilians were called freedom fighters, and the tour guide complained that some of them had been executed. It all depends on which side you are and often who is winning as to what name you are called) because of Israel’s ongoing persecution and destruction. Interestingly the article makes no mention of Israel’s ongoing campaign of targeting and executing Hamas leaders in Gaza, even when they happen to be in with family, or in residential areas, where of course they live., The civilians who die in these attacks are seen as collateral damage. I wonder over the last two years how many Israelis have died in rocket attacks, and how many Palestinians in execution attacks by Israel, and then I have to wonder who really lives in terror? Maybe both sides do?

It is easy to label Hamas as a terrorist group, and ignore the social service they provide in Gaza and across the West Bank. That is why they won the election, and why politicians from all sorts of backgrounds stood fro them and supported them, including Christian. Some of the Palestinians I talked to while in Israel, while not supporting Hamas, were impressed with the social services they did provide, and could see why they had such a following. They are much more than a fighting group.

Sadly, this all sounds like and either or attitude. And that will get us nowhere. What I long for, what I pray for nearly every day, what am I seeking and what I would hope you seek is a safe place for Israelis and Palestinians to live, side by side. But that will not happen while Israel maintains its stranglehold on Gaza, and across the West Bank. Nor will it happen while Palestinians are treated as less that human by Israel and the Arab world. It will not happen while Palestinians have no hope of ever having their own state, while Israel continues to confiscate their land and while they have no economic base on which to build lives of hope. It will not happen while the current policies of conflict and military action hold sway. The only possible result is more deaths, and most of those will be Palestinian. How can we possibly support that?

I mourn for the Israelis who have to live with the threat of rocket attacks, but I also mourn for the people of Gaza who cannot get adequate food, water or power, who have no hope, and live in terror of the next Israeli raid.

If you want to read more about this then Robert Frisk’s “the Great War for Civilization” has some excellent chapters. He would find you comment about the left wing press laughable. As someone who has lived and reported on the Middle East for 30 years his experience is that the press is very pro Israeli, and very inaccurate in its reporting.

Finally, I wonder how our Christian brothers and sisters in Gaza, Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters are feeling when once again Western churches applaud their killing. And I wonder how we as Christians can support either side in the use of force to achieve its goals. where does that fit with the gospel, or with Jesus own ministry. Killing is not the answer for either side. To suggest that is to have the wrong end of the stick.

Antony, I have been there, I have talked to Anglican Palestinians who are trying to find another way, but who are not supporters of current Israeli polices. I also spent a week with a Jewish tour, and heard their side of the argument. I have read several books. This si not something I came to without some experience and research. And I pray for a just way forward every day. So, no, I do not think I have the wrong end of the stick.

Peace and all good
John

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Once

On happier note, we are spending some nights watching movies. Last night we watched "Once". This is a stunningly beautiful movie, apart from some of the language. It is a great story, and the music is amazing. Just amazing. My two older children really got into it, and immediatly after went online to buy the soundtrack, as you do.

Regarding Gaza

Regarding Gaza

By Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College
December 31, 2008

One hundred tons of bombs are Israel’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza, Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year. These “gifts” that were showered from US-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives – among them scores of children. Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets. However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza, Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the people of Gaza, both Muslims and Christians. The majority of the people of Gaza are not Hamas militants. They are people like you and I who long to live in peace day in and day out. Regretfully, everyone in the Gaza Strip--men, women, children, civilians and fighters alike—is now feeling the horrible impact and devastation caused by the newest and deadliest Israeli incursion over the Strip in many years.

There is no doubt that the Qassam rockets launched against the western Negev and Ashkelon by Islamic militants linked to Hamas cause great pain and anxiety for many Israelis. Most people agree that Israel, like any other country, has the right to defend itself from outside attacks. However in this unequal conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel, as usual, has overdone it. When it comes to dealing with its enemies, Israel has a pattern of being extreme. “An eye for an eye” does not satisfy. It has to be more like one hundred eyes for one eye and one hundred teeth for one tooth. When the Israelis attacked Lebanon in June 2006, they sprayed the country with millions of cluster bombs (which are internationally banned) and these bombs continue to kill innocent people even today. What troubles me most in this current war is that most of the victims of this Israeli incursion on Gaza are average people-men, women and children--who are struggling to just to survive under the extreme and harsh conditions that the Israeli siege has created. For 40 years the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli occupation and during the last few years, although the Israelis redeployed their troops from Gaza, they never withdrew the symbols of their dominance and occupation. They continue to control the borders, which mean controlling food, medicine, fuel and goods going in and out of the Strip. In essence, they have turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.

If the Israeli leaders assume that they can assure the security of their citizens by the might and the power of their superior army and air force, they are mistaken. The outrage caused among the peoples in the Arab and Islamic world by these horrible attacks will most likely blow dark clouds over the skies of Israel or elsewhere in the world.

Israel should learn to negotiate with its neighbors in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means implementing UN resolutions, ending the occupation of the West Bank, opening the borders of the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world and stopping military incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rise of Hamas and militancy in Gaza is directly related to a vacuum that Israel and the United States have created by dragging their feet in never-ending and fruitless peace negotiations with moderate Palestinians. As long as Israel continues to place obstacles on the path of the peace process and as long as the US continues to allow it to do so, we can expect new outbursts of violence in the Middle East that will cause more horrors and waste more lives on both sides of the political divide.

The Israelis have the right to live in peace and security and so do the people of Gaza. I call on you, friends, to pray for the civilians on both sides who are caught in this nightmare. In addition to praying, let us protest these lethal bombs with a barrage of our own letters to our elected leaders calling for an end to this human tragedy.

Happy New Year

What a way to start. Fireworks. Big crowds at the Mount. All good
And in Israel, fireworks and big crowds too, only not so much fun. AS I watch the terrorist state of Israel continue to target UN facilities, and teh civilians within, as they continue with their ongoing blockade that prevents food, medicine, fuel, hope from entering Gaza, I wonder how a people who were treated so appallingly can so quickly act with so little humanity, so little compassion, and instead poor out such hate on other people.
There will be no peace while Israel insists on acting as a terrorist state, and whil America supports them in their terrorist activities.

Anyway, happy new year!

I enclose a email I received last week.

Hello all,
I am spending the Christmas break here in Jerusalem with my girlfriend Karin and her family. It was a lovely Christmas, as we went to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity and Christmas Lutheran Church on Christmas Eve and then to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Old City Jerusalem on Christmas Day.

Not long after that, as many of you know, Israel began a bombing campaign in Gaza. The death and destruction have been horrific, with the latest death toll at over 300 people, many of which are civilians.

What you have probably heard is that our government and many US newspapers (like the Washington Post) have laid the blame entirely on Hamas and Gaza. After all, they did start shooting rockets at Israel once the 6-month truce expired.

What you probably have not heard is this: what exactly was Israel's side of the agreement in that truce? In return for a halt in rockets, Israel agreed to open the borders of Gaza. See, for many years now (40+) Israel has controlled Gaza, even though they don't have any forces there. It has basically been an open air prison, with all land borders sealed, and with Israel using force to prevent any planes or ships from coming in. Israel also controls the electricity and water, both of which it frequently cuts off for different reasons. They have blockaded the Gaza strip, and have stopped all goods coming into and out of Gaza. Six months ago, they agreed to open these borders. They rarely did, even denying the inflow of basic food aid. In addition, they have barred all journalists from the strip for fear that the true suffering of the Gazans might be known. The most recent UN figure put at 80% the number of Gazans who rely on food aid, yet the UN trucks are rarely allowed in. With all of the violence, hospitals were woefully under supplied to handle all these traumas, as again, Israel prevented any medical supplies to come in.

What you also may not have heard is that Israel started planning this attack 6 months ago, right when the truce was signed (even up to the smallest detail- see haaretz.com). They even started the bombing campaign at noon, right when children were leaving school, creating even more potential to harm kids and civilians.

We are indeed saddened by this violence here on both sides, and unfortunately it looks as though Israel might invade with ground troops, which would be a disaster for everyone. Palestine has been under occupation now for over forty years, and basic human rights are being denied to them. We witnessed here, on the Mount of Olives, a Palestinian being beaten in custody by Israeli police. This is not abnormal.

We are praying for a quick end to the violence, but more importantly we are praying for justice and an end to the occupation, which is the only way to bring a lasting peace and security for both Palestinians and Israeli's.

Please feel free to share this.

~Ray