Gaza's bleak reality
Tzipi Livni says the world can be divided into two: The good guys, who came to Annapolis, the ones who want to make peace - and the bad guys, who oppose the conference and want to sabotage peace efforts. According to the foreign minister, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his friends in the Ramallah government belong to the good guys. The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, belongs to the bad guys. But Haniyeh is responsible for the fate of some 1.5 million Palestinians, and they and the place they live in are supposed to be an integral part of the agreement that is the underlying reason for holding the conference. Even with all its goodwill, in the best case scenario, Israel can only give Abu Mazen about half the kingdom. In order to transfer the other half to him, the Israel Defense Forces will have to recapture Gaza.
But there are voices calling for another option: They want the framework agreement, which is deadlocked for now, to be accompanied by a comprehensive agreement for a cease-fire and a prisoner release, starting with Gilad Shalit. For now, however, Ehud Olmert does not want to hear about any deal with the bad guys. He has enough on his plate because of the problems created by his own bad guys, back in Israel, because of his close ties with the good Arabs from the territories.
The division within the Palestinian Authority (PA) did indeed pave the way to Annapolis, but it also disrupted the path toward the last stage in the permanent arrangement. On the one hand, Abu Mazen's commitment to accept responsibility for all the territories holds no value. On the other hand, he is not interested in Hamas-Gaza standing in Fatah-West Bank's way to a permanent status agreement. The emerging solution lies in the second stage of the road map, in the form of a state with temporary borders.
Officially, Abu Mazen and his colleagues vehemently reject any hints that they are willing to discuss such a solution. In private conversations, they tell Israeli friends that should Abbas receive guarantees that Israel will kick its habit of turning any temporary arrangement into a permanent reality, then there will be something to talk about. Instead of a state with temporary borders, such an arrangement would receive a new name, such as "a transition state."
And what will happen in Gaza in the meantime? Will the siege of Gaza and the plan to periodically cut off its electricity distance the residents of the Strip from the bad guys and bring them closer to the good guys? According to John Ging, who has been the director of UNRWA's Gaza field office for the last two years, the mood is swinging in the opposite direction. He says that the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza is turning the Israeli government's designation of the Strip as a "hostile entity" into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was the main message of a speech the senior UN official delivered last week to a group of British legislators in London.
Here are a few particularly sharp quotes: "Recently, Israel declared Gaza a hostile entity, and on that basis has been implementing a new series of crushing sanctions, significantly adding to the human misery and suffering of 1.5 million civilians in Gaza. Public statements on behalf of the government of Israel link these sanctions to protection of the Israeli civilian population, under daily assault from rockets fired from Gaza. This presupposes that the civilian population is somehow more capable of stopping the rocket fire than the powerful military of the occupying power... Not only are these sanctions not working, but because of their profound inhumanity, they are in fact counterproductive to their stated purpose; and while Gaza is not yet an entity populated by people hostile to their neighbor, it inevitably will be if the current approach of collective punitive sanctions continues.
"You must be on the ground for days and weeks to begin to appreciate the full horror of the situation. ... Their [the Gazans'] living conditions continue their relentless downward spiral, to what can now only be described as truly appalling. ... This year, 649 Palestinians have been killed and 2819 have been injured, in those figures are the deaths of 63 children with 86 children injured. ... Living in the midst of the civilian population are those who are bent on the violent destruction of Israel; they fire rockets into Israel on an almost daily basis, terrorizing the civilian population within range. A total of two Israelis have been killed and 99 injured this year as a result of this rocket fire...
"The impact on the medical situation for those affected is quite simply atrocious: 91 of 416 essential drugs are in chronically short supply or have run out altogether. Almost 800 patients needing treatment abroad are currently denied permission to leave Gaza. It is very difficult to convey through words their physical suffering and the mental anguish caused to their families by these decisions to deny them access to the life-saving medical care that they need.
"The food situation is equally bad, with almost 1.2 million Gazans now relying on handouts from the UN. It is all the more tragic as this is a man-made problem rather than the result of a natural disaster."
According to UNRWA data that was forwarded to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, prior to his departure for Annapolis, "our available resources are now so overstretched that we are only providing 61 percent of the daily calorie intake needed to sustain life, which means that those who have no other means to supplement our ration are hungry and their nutritional status is in significant decline. At present we do not have sufficient funding to provide just one high-nutrient biscuit per day to the 200,000 school children in UN schools."
According to Ging, years of living with the occupation, poverty, violence and shortages have led to the collapse of the education system in the Gaza Strip. "The collapse revealed [itself] in failure rates of up to 90 percent in basic literacy and numeracy.
"I am compelled to discard the usual niceties of diplomatic speak and say to you bluntly," Ging ended his speech to the parliament members, "the current policy of collective punishment and inhumane illegal sanctions against the civilian population in Gaza is actually supporting the agenda of the extremists.
"Today's youth are tomorrow's leaders. They don't make the decisions today but will be shaped by ours and will in their turn shape successor generations. Now is our moment to influence not just the present but also the future. We won't have a second chance. It is an urgent and awesome responsibility with the most profound and far-reaching consequences."
A partial blackout?
And after all these harsh statements by the UN official in Gaza, Israel is finishing its preparations to cut off Gaza's electricity supply. According to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's directives, it was decided to make do with cutting off electricity gradually, so as not to affect vital installations, such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, water pumping stations and schools. It appears as though those who think power outages will stop the violence forgot to check the attorney general's opinion. In addition, they failed to consult an electrical engineer on whether it is technically possible to black out a Gaza home and ascertain that the hospital across the street will remain lit up.
In a hearing on the electricity petition, submitted by the Adalah and Gisha organizations, and scheduled to take place in the High Court of Justice this week, the State Prosecutor's office can expect a surprise. According to the petitioners' research, the outdated structure of Gaza's electricity grid (due in part to the occupation authorities' ongoing neglect) makes a selective blackout technically impossible. Any power shutdown of one of the dozens of electricity lines running from Israel to the Strip will lead to a blackout of the entire area, without distinguishing between the house of Ismail Haniyeh and the pumping station that supplies water to the entire area.
The research is based on information the organizations received from senior engineers in the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO), energy infrastructure experts and from international aid organizations. They verified the data with the help of a retired Israel Electric Corporation engineer, who is well-acquainted with Gaza's electricity grid. Since Israel's bombing of the Gaza power station in June 2006, the area has suffered from chronic energy and water shortages. The siege has made these shortages more acute, as it prevents the supply of spare parts for outdated facilities that are gradually breaking down.
In order to make sure that vital facilities aren't affected by the shortage, GEDCO technicians maneuver constantly between electric poles. The research shows that over the last four years, five technicians have died as a result of their work, while an additional 45 were injured by burns to the face and hands.
Criminals with connections
The bill to grant a pardon to Israeli citizens who violated the law during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip is on its way to the Knesset. The Yesh Din organization, which tries to bring some sort of order into the laws of the jungle that prevail in the territories, doesn't understand how the protesters of the disengagement got so lucky. Their data shows that crimes of an ideological nature are not unique to the protests against the expulsion of the Gaza Strip.
In recent years, the Israel Police's Judea and Samaria Division has opened hundreds of cases dealing with violations of a similar nature. Behind the mild definition identifying such crimes as disturbances of public order is a systematic policy on the part of Israeli citizens aimed at Palestinians citizens and their possessions. Policemen and soldiers occasionally even feel the effects of their protest. The crimes include assault, prohibited use of weapons, damage, trespassing and even several causes of manslaughter.
In 2001, the Judea and Samaria police district opened 537 files on cases of public disturbances, an average of 1.5 cases per day. In 2002, 476 cases were opened, an average of 1.3 cases per day. In 2003, 350 cases were opened, an average of 0.96 per day. In 2004, 511 cases were opened, an average of 1.4 per day. In 2005, the year of the disengagement, 836 cases were opened, an average of 2.3 cases per day. In 2006, 587 such cases were opened, an average of 1.6 per day.
The many reports published over the years on law enforcement for the settlers (the Karp Commission report, the Shamgar Commission and Yesh Din's report) and the absurdly low number of indictments issued against violators indicate the failure of the law enforcement authorities. The criminals know that in the West Bank, crime actually does pay, if the victim is an Arab.
If the Annapolis conference does indeed advance the political process and prompt the evacuation of settlements, even in a partial move, it will only be a matter of time until such an evacuation is realized. Will the pardon bill restrain the disengagement protesters, who have already promised to fight until the bitter end against the next expulsion?
At Yesh Din, they warn that a sweeping pardon for the protesters of the disengagement will not only validate violations of the law ahead of time, but will also encourage ideological crimes by Israeli citizens in the West Bank. It is uncertain whether it will heal the rift in the nation, but there is no doubt that it won't enhance the health of the rule of law.