Category Archives: Human Rights

Focus on Gaza: A Crime of War?

Human rights investigators continue to look into allegations that Israeli soldiers may have committed crimes of war during their Gaza military campaign. As the first Focus on Gaza A Crime of War…

Human rights investigators continue to look into allegations that Israeli soldiers may have committed crimes of war during their Gaza military campaign.

As the first Focus on Gaza A Crime of War? looks at the story of an alleged war crime that occurred during the war in the small village of Khuzaa, half a kilometre from the Israeli border.

Ayman Mohyeldin speaks with village residents who tell the story of a Gazan woman who was killed with a single shot to the head while waving a white flag as she led children to safety.

After ceasefire, Gazans still don’t feel safe

Report, PCHR, 10 February 2009

Faten, holding her young daughter Nagham, in their home in Rafah. (Malian)

Foreign correspondents and camera crews have now begun to leave Gaza, in search of the next headline-grabbing location. But ongoing air strikes and violations of international law are a stark reminder that there is no real end to Israel’s offensive here.

Since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 18 January it has continued to launch strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip. Some families in the southern town of Rafah have been evacuated from their homes up to 10 times in the last 15 days.

Faten al-Shaer, a 31-year-old mother of one, lives just 150 meters from Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. This area, known as the Philadelphi Route has been repeatedly targeted and is now a mass of rubble, sand and bomb craters. Her home is one of the few left standing here, surrounded by the grey concrete remains of homes, and the shreds of tarpaulin that once covered smuggling tunnels.

“I was baking bread when the bombing of the border area began on 28 December,” says Faten. “Thousands of people took to the streets, trying to escape. Everybody was on the move. My mother, my five-year-old daughter Nagham and I ran to my uncle’s house, which is further from the border.” Other family members were scattered at the homes of relatives.

“During the war there was daily bombing of this area — sometimes in the morning, sometimes at midnight,” says Faten. “It went on for 22 days. When the ceasefire was declared we came back to the house but had to evacuate it again the next day because they started bombing again.”

Faten and the 35 members of her extended family have still not spent the night at their home. They come back during the day but always leave before darkness falls.

“The children are suffering real trauma,” Faten adds, as her green-eyed daughter Nagham clings to her. “Some of them are incontinent and they wake up in the night and start crying. My daughter Nagham has to hold onto me all the time. They understand it’s a war.”

The impact of the air strikes and incursions on the children of the Gaza Strip has been acute. Faten’s seven-year-old nephew Dia was in school a few days ago, when he heard an unmanned Israeli drone in the sky. He automatically picked up his schoolbag and ran home, crying “The drones are still over my head. I can’t take it anymore.”

Gaza’s 1.5 million people are still being denied their rights to appropriate living conditions and humanitarian aid is still not reaching many people in need. Families like Faten’s who are not registered as refugees have not received any aid at all.

One of their only sources of income — a small patch of land where Faten’s brother grew vegetables — was bulldozed by the Israeli military a few years ago. Since then they have had to rely on help from relatives in an already beleaguered community. Border closures imposed by Israel since June 2007, have steadily tightened and continue to have a disastrous impact on the economy.

“The international community should intervene,” says Faten. “I just hope they can reach some sort of solution. If the borders were opened for food and fuel then we wouldn’t need the tunnels. It is Israel’s closure policy that has created a need for the tunnels.”

The Israeli-imposed siege has also resulted in a steady deterioration of health conditions. There are chronic shortages of vital medicines and hospital facilities that rely on electricity have been adversely affected by the lack of fuel to power generators.

The psychological cost of the air strikes cannot be underestimated. The bombs that Israeli warplanes are still dropping on Rafah and other parts of Gaza cause huge explosions and earth tremors and lead to sustained feelings of panic and fear among local residents, especially the elderly and children. Civilians often receive automated telephone messages before attacks, urging them to evacuate their houses near the border. But Gaza is densely populated and civilian structures including schools and hospitals sheltering displaced people, have been attacked. People feel there are no safe places left.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is calling upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take effective steps to ensure Israel’s respect of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to provide immediate protection for civilians like Faten and her family.

“We never feel safe,” adds Faten. “We know Israel will bomb again. We just hope there will be a proper ceasefire so we can come back to our homes and start to rebuild what is left.”

This report is part of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ series “Aftermath” that looks at the aftermath of Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing impact it is having on the civilian population.

A letter from a Palestinian Child to the US President

A letter from a Palestinian Child to the US President

Precaution: The Palestinian child doesn’t have a specific clear definition for terms like “terrorism” and “peace”.

Dear Mr. President,

First I would like to congratulate you for your new post; I guess it is a good but tiring job. I want to apologize for not watching your inaugural ceremony, we have no electricity in Gaza, and moreover, I was busy dragging out the corpses of my family while the ceremony was taking place. I heard it was a hell of a ceremony, I wish I could shared the world its joy, but you know, it was a bit difficult to feel happy in such circumstances.

But I heard you after the ceremony, two days later a neighbour came to us while we were still searching for the corps of my little sister carrying with him a portable TV. He looked very serious and said: Youth, the new president of the United States is going to comment on what happened. He said that he is optimistic because you assigned someone called Michael or… Mitchell, something like that. He added that he is a good person. Oh, we found the corps of my three years old sister, she was completely burnt, my twenty one years old cousin fainted, but I remembered my father’s advice for me: Be a man. I was about to faint while I was pulling out her body which was stuck under the devastated building and her body started to crumble…. It was totally scorched. Before I lose control, I remembered my mother’s suggestion when we were frightened of the loud voice of the Israeli strikes: When you feel frightened try to think of something else.

Thank you Mr. President, it was your speech that distracted me while I was collecting my sister’s fragments. I heard you saying: Israel has the right to defend itself… achieving peace in the middle east…. Hamas was sending rockets ….. democracy … and other words that I cannot remember. I am sorry again, I was striving to concentrate in your speech but the smell of my sister’s body and my fear that I may lose some of it didn’t help me to grasp what you were saying exactly. I just realised our neighbour’s anger when he turned the TV off murmuring that he wasted the battery for nothing. We had already pulled out the corps of my mother and half of the corps of my father; we couldn’t find the rest of his body. To be frank with you, I never thought of addressing any American president, I mean, it goes without saying that we are killed with American weapons and taxes. The doctors in the hospitals said that Americans were experimenting a new weapon called DIME in this war, I mean the war on Gaza. We don’t talk to the enemy.

But during the funeral I heard you – on the same TV that belongs to the same neighbour who usually turns it off after your speeches cursing his stupid persistence on wasting the battery – in an interview with an Arab TV channel saying that you want to deliver us a message that America is not our enemy. Oh, I felt responsibility, it seems Mr. President that someone is playing behind your back, it seems that you don’t know that we are killed with your weapons, it seems that those who use the veto to protect Israel and let it get away with its crimes against us in the security council are just doing this without even telling you, it seems that you don’t know that your country annually pumps a huge amount of money to Israel, well Mr. President, Israel is the enemy, and we didn’t choose it. We didn’t beg for check points, we didn’t beg for blockage, we didn’t beg for cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs and this new bomb you are experimenting on us.

Besides, I heard you saying that you want to achieve peace in the Middle East; I know, I know, it is us, we are the Middle East. Why Mr. President? Why do you want to achieve more peace in us? We had enough peace; we had more than enough peace during the last war. Do you want to achieve more? The blond woman called Livni said that she wants peace that is why Israel waged this aggression on us. I lost my whole family in this peace process. And those who imposed the blockage on Gaza – during which one of my cousins died because of the shortage of medicine – always talk about peace: Abbas, Fayyad, Mubarak. They are men of peace, exactly like Livni. They did all what they can to achieve peace, I don’t think that you need more peace, do you?

I went to my cousin’s home, he also lost all his family, I am in his custody now. He is my all family and I am his only family. He is twenty one years old as I told you before, he was a student in the faculty of medicine, but he was not allowed to graduate, the blockage and the bad circumstances pushed him to leave the university and work, then he joined the resistance during this last war. He is a Hamas member now. You said you will achieve peace on them.. in them … within them? Something like that… right? Anyway, I don’t remember, I just remember that you want to harm my cousin too because he is a terrorist. I wonder what is wrong with terrorists like my cousin.

He is a very nice guy, you would like him if you met him. He prepares breakfast for me, he cooks very delicious smashed eggs, he takes me to school, he stays all night besides me because I have nightmares every night, and when I wake up startled with the frightening nightmare he puts his hand on my forehead and recites some verses from the Quran and sing me beautiful songs till I fall asleep again. After school he plays with me soccer in the street, he tells me very funny jokes and gorgeous fairy tales, he swings me along with his friends whom you call terrorists and I laugh to tears. On my neighbour’s TV I watched you practicing some terrorism with your daughters; you were playing with them exactly like my cousin plays with me. Why don’t you want my cousin to be a good terrorist like you? Why do you want to make peace in my country while you all live in terrorism happily? Did we annoy you Mr. President? We don’t even know you, if someone in my district did anything wrong to you just tell me and I will oblige him to apologize for you.

Then you tell us that you are not our enemy! Then who is our enemy Mr. President? I see, it is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oho, my mother used to tell me that I have to lessen my satirical remarks, I am sorry Mr. President, but imagine Mr. Obama that you were dragging the corps of one of your girls – God forbids – while someone is nagging behind you blaming you for the death of your own daughter and never blames the one who killed her, on the contrary, he thinks that the murderer’s crime is entirely justified and you and your daughter deserve what happened to you, what would you think of that guy? Would you think that he is your friend?

Mr. President, I know that you are “not an Arab but you are a decent family man”, but that doesn’t mean that those indecent family Arab men, women and children deserve to be barbequed. You don’t kill people because they are indecent. By the way, my parents were not Hamas members, truly they elected Hamas, but they didn’t work with the resistance.

My mother was happy with the elections; she said that this is democracy. I am very sad that my mother didn’t know that democracy means destruction; she thought it is a nice thing. Now I know that democracy is like peace, they both kill families and children. But it is too late; I wish my mother read more books to know better than that.

The whole situation really confuses me, my cousin says that is because I am still a child, but I am not a child, I am seven years old and I am a man as my father wanted me. Yet I really do not understand when people are occupied what usually they do except resisting? When they are the natives, the owners of the land and someone comes and expel them from this land and build settlements, are they supposed to just leave without any resistance? Would you do this Mr. President? Would you give up your home to somebody else that easy? Why would you live with your daughters safely at home while my home is devastated?

I am not a creature with a tail, I really do not have any tails, you can check yourself. I am a human being like you, exactly like you. Apparently you believe the blond woman when she says that Hamas is hiding among civilians. I will tell you the story because it is obvious that they are deceiving you. Hamas is not a ghost or a monster, it is a movement, that is to say… hmmm how can I explain it to you, yea, like a club or stuff like that, a group of people, very large number of people, those people are mostly like my cousin, I mean, ordinary people, cousins, brothers, neighbours…etc, and naturally such people have families and homes, these homes are in Gaza, so if someone of them is sitting at home with his brothers and sisters and this home is in a building that is full of women and children, actually he is not hiding, I mean if you phone called him he will answer, if you called him from the street he will look to you from the window as he does with his friends.

They are the tenants, they don’t have any place to go to except Gaza, they don’t have any homes except their homes. And the blond woman says that they send rockets, well besides that Israel is occupation and we have to get them out of our lands, and these “cities” you are referring to are settlements built on our occupied lands, and those “civilians” whom you sympathise with are occupiers who were brought by the Israeli army to live in our lands, beside all this, she is a liar, there was no ceasefire at all, during the calming or the ceasefire we had the Israeli planes flying over our heads, striking, killing six people one of them was my cousin’s neighbour, he was wounded and left on the passage to Egypt because the borders were blocked and he died on the borders.

So I can assure you that these six were dead, because my cousin attended his neighbour’s funeral. See? she is lying. I wonder how an adult woman like her lies all the time like that, and you are a kind person, I can understand why you believe her, that is because naturally an adult shouldn’t lie, but life is full of surprises, I swear she is lying, I tell you what, let her face me personally with what she is telling the world, I will tell her that she is lying and she will never be able to deny it, I bet she will even refuse to face me.

I really don’t want to be your enemy Mr. President, you Americans have nice movies, nice burger, nice coke, we can easily love you, but you don’t give us any space. Arming Israelis to shower us with phosphorus peace, burning us with DIME peace, destroying our schools with cluster peace and peacefully making me an orphan… and now I am threatened to lose the last person left in my family, that doesn’t make you a biased mediator or a strong ally to the enemy Mr. President, that makes you THE ENEMY.

I don’t think it is smart to have a strong enemy like you, but what can I do Mr. President? Apparently it is your choice and I have nothing to do about it.

Don’t worry Mr. President, everything is settled, I live with my cousin, he is preparing me emotionally that I may lose him, he told me what to do when he dies.

I know what to do, I went to a friend and I asked him to list me with the resistance and not to tell my cousin, he said that I am still a child, so I asked my cousin (without telling him the reasons of course) to find a way to smuggle milk and cheese through the tunnels so I can grow up fast and strong and join the resistance to be a nice young man like my cousin, to defend other families, to save the souls of other mothers and fathers, to protect other children from becoming orphans like me.

As for you, try to reconsider finding out who annoyed you in my district and made you insisting on killing us all, I swear I will tear him into pieces.

Best regards to you and special respect to your daughters…. I’ll pray for them in order not to face my destiny.