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Bombing homes in Gaza: 'It was supposed to be their shelter'

Human rights group B’Tselem exposes — and protests to the Israeli government — home demolitions, Gaza style.

They fled when the flyers fell from the sky, Israeli military orders dropped like confetti on the masses. Evacuate, they said, or else. Seek shelter now.

One week of sorties, and Ibrahim made the call: We leave now — my wife and I, our seven children, our children’s children.

But the Abu Shuqah family never found shelter. The closest they came was a cardboard factory — somewhere between Bureij and Nusseirat, two refugee camps along Gaza’s coastal flats.

“We stayed in the storeroom about two weeks,” Ibrahim recalled. “There were mattresses, water, gas, and electricity there. Things were good.”

Things were “good” — until the shelling began.

Read ‘Gaza’, +972′s story of the year for 2014

To internalize that familiar refrain about Gaza — that nowhere there is safe — consider the life-or-death moves of a father and his kin. That, in one sense, is the key takeaway of “Black Flag,” the latest in a slew of reports — this one by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem — about “Operation Protective Edge” and its lethal prosecution.

B’Tselem’s report, released today, explores “the legal and moral implications” of one particularly efficient Israeli tactic during this summer’s assault: targeting residential buildings. The group estimates that just over a quarter of Palestinian fatalities during the “fighting” owe to this tactic, which claimed 606 lives — 70 percent of them “either under 18, over 60, or women.”

B’Tselem investigated 70 such incidents, including the operation’s first. “On the first day of the fighting,” the report recounts, “the military attacked the Kaware’ family home. The house collapsed. Nine people, including five children aged 7 to 14, were killed.”

B’Tselem adds:

“Even if the Israeli cabinet thought this policy would bring an end to attacks on Israeli communities, it should not have implemented it because of its foreseeable, horrifying consequences as well as because of the black flag of illegality flying over it.”

Of course, B’Tselem’s report coincides with the recent Palestinian decision to sign the Rome Statute, a precondition for leveling war crimes charges against Israeli leaders at the International Criminal Court. B’Tselem, though, stops short of naming Israel’s actions “crimes” under international humanitarian law, or IHL. It concludes instead that, “at least in some cases, the military’s actions ran contrary to IHL provisions...

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+972's Story of the Year: Gaza

Most of us have become so accustomed to Gaza’s suffering that we can hardly imagine a world without it. But imagine we must. During the fighting this summer, and in its aftermath, many believed the war would be a game-changer, that something would have to give — it hasn’t. Activists, intellectuals and diplomats continue to advocate, but what about the Gazans themselves? Beyond violence, what is their role in ending the siege and attaining freedom? Samer Badawi tackles the questions — and the answers — left buried in the rubble.

By Samer Badawi

This is the first time that +972 is highlighting a story instead of a person of the year — a story chosen by our bloggers and editors. We asked Samer Badawi, who spent most of the war reporting for +972 from inside the Strip, to write the story of the year: Gaza.

If “Operation Protective Edge” had its battles, their outcome was measured not in ground gained but in Palestinian lives lost. In Jabaliya, Gaza’s largest refugee camp, I met a young man, Alaa Balata, who had lost all 11 members of his immediate family in a single shelling. In Gaza City, the al-Batch family lost 18 in one F-16 strike. And on and on. Just like that.

For those who survived, the trauma this time seemed to defy comparison. A World Bank executive visiting just after the war said she had “come across many war zones, but none compare to this.” A visiting American psychologist dubbed Gaza “a PTSD nation.” And the Columbia Journalism Review said the war had “pushed reporters to their mental and physical limits.”

That much I knew. In a Ramallah café just after I had left Gaza, I met a fellow American journalist who, like me, had spent some of the fiercest days under Israeli bombardment. By then, the adrenaline had subsided and I’d had a few nights of sleep uninterrupted by drones, F-16s, tank fire or battleship shelling.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had gotten out.

My colleague asked how I was doing. I told him how an Israeli film crew had asked me to describe the sounds of war in Gaza. I couldn’t. Instead, I thought of Muhammad, whose charred one-year-old body I had seen a week earlier at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital.

I couldn’t...

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In Gaza, justice delayed is justice denied

Israeli army investigators have not even contacted the teenage victim of one of the few alleged war crimes it says it is probing. More than two months after Israel’s assault on Gaza began, victims of the air, land, and sea invasion continue to have no recourse against their occupiers.

It’s been nearly two months since 17-year-old Ahmad Abu Raida says he was used as a human shield by Israeli forces near the Gaza border town of Khan Younis. Since then, human rights organizations and various media outlets have reported on the case (+972 was among the first), but Abu Raida has yet to face his alleged captors — and, so far, his family sees no hope for justice.

Although Israeli army’s office of the Military Advocate General said it has opened an investigation into the case, Abu Raida’s father said on Monday that neither he nor his son had been contacted by the military. That comes as no surprise to Brad Parker, an attorney with Defence for Children International’s Palestine section, which first documented Abu Raida’s story.

“Impunity is the norm, as investigations are neither transparent nor independent and rarely result in an Israeli soldier being held criminally responsible or accountable,” Parker told +972. “How serious can any investigation be where, as of today, no Israeli investigator has even contacted Ahmad or his family to gather information concerning his use as a human shield?”

Abu Raida’s case is one of only a handful still being “investigated” by the MAG’s office. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said last week that Israel had committed war crimes during its 51-day assault on Gaza this summer. Others, including participants in the upcoming Russell Tribunal on Palestine, are asking whether Israel’s actions constituted “genocide.”

The tribunal, slated for September 24-25 in Brussels, will include law professors John Dugard and Richard Falk, both of whom have served as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine. In a press release announcing the two-day “extraordinary” session, the organizers said: “[t]he Tribunal will examine Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, and, for the first time regarding Israel, the crime of genocide.”

Read +972′s full coverage of the Gaza war

The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members...

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Leading Israeli human rights group stops cooperating with IDF

In a move that could strengthen the case for international investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes, B’Tselem says it will no longer share its current Gaza case files with the country’s Military Advocate General. Human rights watchdog declares that Israel is unable and unwilling to investigate alleged war crimes committed by its own soldiers.

Citing “severe structural flaws” in the Israeli military’s internal investigation mechanisms and a history of dismissing criminal allegations against military personnel, leading Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem announced on Sunday that it would not comply with a military request to share details of its independent investigations into alleged Israeli abuses in Gaza.

In its investigations into crimes committed by Israeli soldiers during Cast Lead in 2009, the Israeli military partially relied on evidence and testimonies collected by B’Tselem field workers.

In a joint statement with volunteer-run human rights organization Yesh Din, B’Tselem announced that it “has decided to reject [a] request made the Military Advocate for Operation Matters Lt.-Col. Ronen Hirsch to provide the military with information regarding ‘irregular’ incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge.”

The announcement comes amid increasing calls for international investigations of alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, including aiming heavy artillery fire at civilian areas.

“Common sense has it that a body cannot investigate itself,” said B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad. “Yet, again, the military will be investigating its own conduct in Operation Protective Edge; again, these investigations will not be supervised by anyone outside the military.”

‘Whitewashing’

The military’s investigative apparatus, according to Yesh Din figures, yielded criminal indictments in only 1.4 percent of complaints filed on behalf of or by Palestinian victims — in both Gaza and the West Bank — between 2010 and 2013. For investigations into Israel’s two previous “operations” in Gaza — Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense — the percentage of indictments is almost nil. According to B’Tselem figures, following the end of Cast Lead in 2009, only three indictments were handed down out of a total of 400 reported incidents, with the harshest sentence “given to a soldier who stole a credit card.” B’Tselem says it knows of no criminal investigations following Pillar of Defense, the 2012 air assault on Gaza which lasted nine days.

El-Ad said the military’s investigations into “wartime incidents” amounted to whitewashing.

“It would be a welcome change if, instead of the existing whitewashing mechanisms, an independent apparatus were established to...

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Did Gaza win the war?

The terms of Tuesday’s ceasefire declaration matter less than the new leverage, measured in international will, with which Palestinians now approach the negotiating table.

As a much-anticipated ceasefire took hold Tuesday, punctuating Gaza’s horrifying stretch without sleep or succor, spontaneous celebrations erupted throughout the Arab world. But the most jubilant displays were, of course, in Gaza itself, where residents shed the anxiety of a 50-day Israeli war for the simple pleasures of an evening outside.

It had too long been a pleasure denied. For most of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, the right to congregate, to walk the streets without the threat of Israeli airstrikes or shelling was enough to pry victory from the rubble all around them. But some are already wondering: Once the euphoria settles, will the broad-brush terms of yesterday’s deal outweigh the costs borne by this besieged enclave?

To put that question in context, consider the children. More Palestinian children were killed in the last seven weeks than in the last five years combined. And nearly 10 times as many were killed during this Israeli operation – dubbed “Protective Edge” – than during Israel’s full-scale assault on the West Bank in 2002, known as “Defensive Shield.”

These numbers are no doubt staggering, especially against the backdrop of an eight-year siege that has left no respite from the killing, and no way for Gaza’s Palestinians to protect themselves or their children. But in all the sadness wrought by Israel’s multi-front war on a civilian population – by naval battleships, by tanks, by drones and F-16s – what matters most in this war’s wake is not the number of dead, but the fundamental question their sacrifice has raised.

The question isn’t whether 500 Palestinian children’s lives were worth the sacrifice, or whether 50 somehow would have been better. No, the question raised by this war-of-one-army is precisely this: By what law of man or nature is the killing of children so facile, so unchecked?

By murdering innocents in quantities unquantifiable – as they slept, as they played, as they convalesced – as if they were the Jewish state’s chattel, Israel has so savagely trampled the bounds of human decency that it has given the world a new calculus, a clear-eyed formula for finally apprehending the Palestinian predicament. For though they fight and die – and sometimes relentlessly – Palestinians, the world now knows, are neither unjustified...

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Why did Netanyahu take aim at Gaza's tallest towers?

The answer has nothing to do with alleged militants.

The third of three Gaza towers felled by Israeli F-16s housed, among other offices, a media consultancy representing several international news organizations. But when Al Basha Tower was hit early Tuesday morning, that consultancy had already been driven out by Israeli shelling, which had destroyed its eighth-floor office on July 30.

“The first time we were hit, it was a random Israeli shell,” said Saud Abu Ramadan, who has owned the office since 2007 and works as a stringer for American, Spanish, and Japanese news outlets. “But this time,” the 50-year-old Abu Ramadan told +972, “the IDF called building occupants and told us to leave.”

Unprecedented in their scale and impact, Israel’s attacks over the last 50 days have made a random shelling seem like a free pass. But with three high rises leveled in the last three days, some observers of Netanyahu’s war are asking why. Why have the Israelis upped the ante – from shelling a building randomly to executing what amounts to a demolition order?

The answer has nothing to do with alleged militants-in-hiding. After all, Israel deliberately encouraged the buildings’ occupants to leave. According to residents, the military called several of them and told them to flee along with hundreds of others in neighboring buildings, also rumored to be on the strike list. If there were some massive clandestine operation that “required” Israel to destroy a whole building, it could have done what it had no qualms doing before – killing entire families to extrajudicially “target” a single suspect. But this time, there was no attempt to strike without warning. No, Israel wanted the world to watch as the towers fell.

If that sounds all-too-familiar, it should. The parallels with America’s 9/11, which killed close to 3,000 people, would end there. Except that it was Netanyahu himself who used the 2001 attacks to fashion his tactics against the Palestinians. Speaking to a New York Times reporter the day of the attacks, Netanyahu called them “very good” for U.S.-Israel relations, and, within just six months, his country’s government was using them to justify its massive invasion of the West Bank, which killed nearly 500 Palestinians. The death toll echoed Netanyahu’s comments, made just before 9/11, that Israel had to deliver “blows that are so painful that the price will be too heavy to be borne.”

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Palestinian teen: I was used as a human shield in Gaza

An affidavit obtained exclusively by +972 reveals what appears to be the first documented case of a ‘human shield’ used by the Israeli military during its invasion of the eastern Gaza town of Khuza’a.

Ahmad Abu Raida, now 17, was separated from his family by Israeli soldiers on July 23 as he and his family were trying to flee to safety. During Abu Raida’s five-day captivity, an Israeli soldier, who insisted he be called “captain,” repeatedly asked the boy about alleged Hamas tunnels and rocket launching sites in his neighborhood.

“I told him I did not know,” Abu Raida, who was 16 years old at the time of the incident, said. “‘I’m young. I’m 17 years old. How am I supposed to know these things?’ I said to him, but he became angry and started punching and kicking me.”

Abu Raida’s case was documented by Defense for Children International-Palestine, which released a statement Thursday based on the affidavit it collected. +972 spoke with the 17-year-old earlier today.

Trying to escape

Abu Raida’s ordeal followed two days of intense shelling from Israeli tanks, which had crossed the Gaza border near to his home. When his family decided to try and escape on foot, they were stopped by Israeli soldiers.

“I heard a soldier on one of the tanks ordering women, children and old people to stand on one side, and those between 20 and 40 years old to stand on the other side of the street,” Abu Raida said in the affidavit.

After seeing that men in the 20-40 group were taken to an empty field and made to strip down to their underwear, the 17-year-old “took two steps back to see what was going on.”

When he did, Abu Raida said an Israeli soldier took him to the open field, about 100 meters from the group of men, tied his hands with a plastic chord, and forced him to kneel down. According to Abu Raida, the soldier then proceeded to punch him in the stomach and face while saying repeatedly, “You’re not human, you’re a dog.”

At around 4 p.m., according to the affidavit, the men were taken away for questioning and the women, children and older residents were released. Abu Raida was blindfolded, made to strip to his underwear, and taken to a house.

‘Are you Hamas?’ 

“When the blindfold was removed, I found myself inside the house surrounded by more than...

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Netanyahu's zero-sum war in Gaza

As evidence of Israeli war crimes mounts in Gaza, Netanyahu’s latest escalation will only add to his country’s increasing international pariah status.

Just over 24 hours after reports emerged that Israel and the Palestinians – with American urging – had reached a deal to gradually end the Gaza blockade, Israel began targeting the very people with whom it had been indirectly negotiating. Following a reported assassination attempt on Hamas military wing leader Mohammed Deif, which instead killed his wife and young child, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she would “always support the targeted killings of terror leaders,” adding unequivocally: “I do not negotiate with Hamas.”

But Israel’s about-face doesn’t add up. Ultimately, the indirect talks in Cairo have always been with Hamas, and though they have been tense from the get-go, preceding periods of calm – the most recent lasting six days, and interrupted first by last Friday’s Israeli fire at residential areas in Khan Younis – have yielded hope for a long-term truce. When that hope dimmed, the ensuing violence fell within predictable, if no less horrifying, parameters – Gaza’s resistance fired rockets, and Israel’s military bombed what it termed “terror targets.” But this time those “targets” are not the facilities – hospitals, schools, factories – Israel has struck over the past six weeks; they are individual Hamas leaders.

The move suggests a zero-sum Israeli strategy aimed at “eliminating” any of the people capable of forging a way out of the current confrontation. This strategy was tried in 2012 when Israel assassinated top Hamas negotiator Ahmad Jabari, prompting Hamas retaliation and a nine-day Israeli assault that cost the lives of more than 400 Palestinians. Given that operation’s failure to achieve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated aim of crushing Hamas’ military capability, one wonders what the rationale behind Israel’s current round of assassinations could be.

If 2012 is any gauge, one answer might be that Israel hopes to dismantle Hamas entirely, re-installing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in Gaza. But there are no signs that any of the Palestinian factions negotiating in Cairo have broken rank, and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has yet to withdraw his support for Hamas’s demands. Meanwhile, Israel continues to hold hostage members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Legislative Council, and last night issued, for the first time since the mid-1980s, “internal deportation” orders to...

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Gaza dispatch: When tanks shell refugee camps

In Jabaliya sustained Israeli shelling has obliterated entire families, leaving them homeless and with few options to rebuild.

Scenes of destruction abound along Gaza’s eastern border. From its northern tip to the southern town of Rafah, entire blocks along this 25-mile-long strip have been flattened, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, overwhelming the makeshift shelters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and threatening to delay the beginning of the school year here.

But for all the trauma felt by the newly displaced, residents of Gaza’s refugee camps have suffered an especially cruel fate since Israel began its ground and air invasion five weeks ago. Nowhere is that more pronounced than in Jabaliya, where sustained Israeli shelling has obliterated entire families, leaving them homeless and with few options to rebuild.

“UNRWA can only help people in its schools,” says 27-year-old Yusef Balata, who was just outside his home when Israeli shells killed all 11 family members inside, including five children. Balata and his cousins have returned to the scene everyday since the July 29 attack, picking through the rubble for reminders of the departed.

Ahmad Balata, 18, holds up a bib and tells me it belonged to his one-year-old cousin, whose body was buried in parts. Ahmad stands nearly seven feet tall but seems to shrink at the thought. He kneels down again and finds a birth certificate, a prescription, an immunization record – all bearing his cousin’s name.

Home to more than 100,000 people, the Jabaliya refugee camp is Gaza’s largest. Most here hail from villages and towns that were either destroyed during Israel’s creation or “cleansed” of their Palestinian inhabitants and rebranded with Hebrew names. But ask anyone in this 1.4-square-kilometer space, and they can still name where their families’ homes used to be.

That’s no minor detail for a population that, like Gaza’s itself, is mostly below the age of 29 – and certainly too young to remember the Palestinians’ 1948 nakba, or catastrophe. Unlike that first generation of displaced, though, Jabaliya’s youth have known only this ramshackle life, where rows of concrete and corrugated steel are their only sense of shelter.

Now, even that is gone.

At the outset of Israel’s most recent ground invasion into Gaza, this refugee camp suffered some of the most devastating tank shelling, including a July 30 attack on a UN-run school that killed 19 people seeking shelter there. A...

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How journalists become complicit in Gaza's suffering

Reporters seize upon the list of Gaza’s most recent victims, only to parse their death certificates for proof that they, too, did not deserve to die.

“Journalism,” wrote the Swedish war correspondent Stig Dagerman, “is the art of coming too late as early as possible.” The dictum resounds in Gaza, where an eight-year Israeli siege – which has left this land all but unlivable – went woefully underreported well before Gaza was is in the throes of war. As Palestinian families again count their dead, that journalistic negligence, say human rights workers, leaves much of the reporting here dangerously devoid of context.

One glaring example of this is the notion that Palestinian civilians are only killed when Israel launches full-scale assaults – by air, land and sea – “to defend itself.” In fact, death by Israeli fiat is as routine here as the siege itself.

Consider the case of Odeh Hamad, a young man who was fatally shot by Israeli snipers on December 20, 2013. Hamad was collecting scrap metal to sell for cash – a familiar stop-gap of Gaza’s unemployed, who, even before this latest Israeli assault, represented more than 40 percent of Gaza’s population. According to his brother, who was with him and spoke a day after the killing, Hamad was a kilometer away from Israel’s unilaterally delineated “border fence” when he was shot, posing no threat to the heavily armed soldiers in their concrete turrets.

Hamad, of course, was not the first to be gunned down along Gaza’s so-called “buffer zone,” which at the time rendered off-limits “nearly 14 percent of Gaza’s total land and at least 48 percent of [its] total arable land,” according to Harvard researcher Sara Roy (the estimates are higher now). You wouldn’t know it from the Western press, though, which has largely ignored the buffer zone and its consequences.

It’s all the more galling, then, when reporters seize upon the list of Gaza’s most recent victims, only to parse their death certificates for proof that they, too, did not deserve to die. Case in point: On August 5, The New York Times ran an article by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren titled, “Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead From the Gaza Conflict.” The money quote, according to Mahmoud Abu Rahmeh of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, is this:

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This is what life in Gaza sounds like

I have heard the sounds of war before. In Iraq, I was jolted from sleep by the sound of incoming rockets, massive truck bombs, and exploding IEDs. In Afghanistan, I temporarily lost my hearing when an explosives-packed SUV detonated meters from my office. I have heard windows shatter and bystanders scream. And I have seen the aftermath: sinewy flesh, bone shards, jaw fragments.

But I have never heard the discord of sounds, the cacophony of violence, that Gaza’s Palestinians – all of them – know so well. Here, the ever-present drone of machines overhead mingles with the scream of jet sorties, tank shelling, and bursts of heavy guns from naval battleships. Here, modern warfare’s full range of fronts is audible everywhere and all at once.

I share a flat with two Palestinian journalists in the heart of Gaza City. Each night, we sit on the balcony floor in the dark and listen to the drones. Sometimes they seem to hover just over us, stationary and menacing. Once, my colleague snapped a photo, and the flash went off. We crawled inside in a hurry, wondering whether the drone operator, somewhere far away, would think the snap something else and decide to “liquidate” us.

The sound of Israeli drones is ever-present in Gaza’s skies (via Lara Aburamadan):

Mostly, though, there’s no time for such calculations. When we hear an F-16 begin to descend, we have no idea where the missile will fall. The one exception is when a drone “knocks” on the target beforehand. When that happens, we grab our cameras and wait for the strike. It usually comes within a few minutes. In other cases, all we hear is the gathering thunder of jet engines, a pause as the “payload” is released, and then a massive boom followed by the reverb of debris crashing to the ground. Sometimes, our building shakes.

An August 1 airstrike on the Islamic University in the heart of Gaza City (via Lara Aburamadan):

Occasionally, especially at night, we’ll hear an F-16 swoop in, see the plume of smoke it leaves in its wake – but notice that there is no explosion. We have no idea why these strikes are silent. Could they be “concrete bombs” – non-explosive missiles that a Voice of America...

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Why the Gaza port matters

While prospects for a negotiated end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza remain bleak, making use of the existing sea passage to Gaza could offer a way forward for all parties, including Egypt.

As negotiations to end the bloodshed in Gaza continue in Cairo, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said today that some 65,000 homes had been destroyed by Israeli bombing, leaving more than a quarter of the Gazan population seeking shelter – half of them at UNRWA schools. Aid organizations say the recovery effort will take years and, even then, only if Gaza has unfettered access to the construction materials it needs to rebuild.

Getting there hinges, in part, on whether Israel will allow the free movement of goods through existing land crossings into Gaza. But Palestinian negotiators have insisted that those entry points are insufficient and have called for Israel to relinquish its control over another key passage – the Mediterranean coast.

In a brief televised statement issued hours before the recent three-day ceasefire expired, Hamas military wing spokesperson Abu Obeida referred three times to the Gaza port, urging Palestinian negotiators to push for a lifting of the Israeli sea blockade. His emphasis could suggest an opening for the so-far stalled indirect talks in Cairo, which aim to broker a long-term truce between the two sides.

Although details of the talks have been sparse, Palestinian negotiators have said they stand behind Hamas demands to end the now eight-year land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. Broadly speaking, these demands fall into two categories: the “free flow” of people and the right to import and export goods. On the former, Israel has offered to be “more flexible” with permits for the Erez crossing, the only civilian access point between Gaza and the West Bank. On the latter, reports indicate that Israel has categorically refused to accept a recommissioning of the Gaza air and sea ports.

At the same time, Israeli negotiators have reportedly shown some flexibility on the issue of importing cement to Gaza – a demand that Israel has said could be met with “international control and supervision.” The European Union Border Assistance Mission in Rafah, or EUBAM, has such a mandate but has been inactive since June 2007, “due to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.” But as part of the Cairo talks, three of its main sponsors –...

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Gaza dispatch: 'Death will come and life will go on'

In the tragedy that is the Middle East, we Palestinians have played two roles – the victim or the vilified. But Gaza is changing all that. Gaza is fighting back.

“You want to go where?”

My colleague and I have just boarded a taxi and named our destination– Rafah. Two days after the Israeli military had sealed Gaza’s southernmost town, claiming Hamas fighters had kidnapped one of its own, few images had emerged of the ensuing destruction. We wanted to see for ourselves.

We were not alone, of course. Thousands of families displaced from points north, east and south along Gaza’s border with Israel have seized any lull in the bombing to try and return to their homes, to survey the damage and salvage what they can from the rubble. That day, the Israelis announced that they would grant a limited respite – everywhere but Rafah.

Abu Deema, our driver, hears the word, tightens his grip on the steering wheel, and nods his head. “Ok,” he says, “yallah.” The Arabic expression is a conjunction of sorts, two words made one, meaning literally: “Oh, God.” In day-to-day conversation, though, yallah means “let’s go.”

The day-to-day here is filled with the makeshift tactics of civilians in war. The aim is simple: to survive. Before he shifts into drive, Abu Deema reaches over my knees and into the glove compartment, pulls out a roll of red tape, and hops out of the car. He is marking the hood, the doors, the trunk, the roof – all with the letters “TV.” This and a simple prayer – “in the name of God, the merciful, the gracious” – are his contingencies. We make haste, the sea to our right, the F-16s in flight.

I have been to Gaza before but never under these circumstances. This time, as a group of journalists and I walked the long stretch between the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Erez crossing, we could hear tanks shelling Gaza City, where we would be staying. On the bus ride in, we saw entire neighborhoods abandoned in the so-called buffer zone. And as we approached our destination, long lines of people queued to buy bread, their cars plastered with the same two letters – to try and spare them from the machines overhead.

To the outsider, nothing about the scenes is ordinary. But to the 1.8 million people of Gaza,...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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