Friday, March 27, 2009

Interview with Huda Naim, a leader of Hamas in Gaza

photo of Huda Naim by Felice Gelman

The following is an article written by Felice Gelman in her blog "Gaza Views." She is reporting on a meeting that the Code Pink delegation had with a leader of Hamas in Gaza during its visit there in the middle of March.

I could hardly claim to be an expert on Hamas, but, since the U.S. has decided to have no contact with them (and therefore know nothing about them), here is an addition to the little information we have.

We met with Huda Naim, a woman who is a member of the Palestinian Parliament, for Hamas. Her responsibilities in Gaza include sitting on the government’s committee for human rights. She understands English well, but spoke to us in Arabic – translated for us by an Egyptian American member of our delegation.

She has five children, and a master’s degree in social work. She became involved in politics initially through the student unions at the university, and then founded a public relations firm.

Everything that follows is a paraphrase of her narrative.

Hamas initially was organized to provide the social services that were sadly lacking for the Palestinian people, and is the Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1987, it declared itself a resistance movement to the Israeli occupation and broadened its activities beyond social services. After the signing of the Oslo accords Hamas decided it had to place more emphasis on political activities in order to participate in the nascent Palestinian Authority. The main reason for this was that, outside the government, Hamas was unable to stop negotiations that were leading to the loss of more and more Palestinian land.

Hamas is not against negotiations in principle, but rejects the current form of negotiations. Hamas sees the “peace process” as just a vehicle for the erosion of Palestinian rights and lands. They believe there is now nothing left for a viable two state solution.

Hamas also felt it had to become involved in politics because the internal corruption and cronyism of the Palestinian Authority was beyond redemption.

It had boycotted the 1996 parliamentary elections, and had no other opportunities for political office because all municipal positions were appointed until 2005. In the 2005 elections, all the political parties agreed to establish a quota for women’s seats in order to insure women’s participation in the government. For these elections, the country was divided into three regions, with elections held in one region at a time. In the first regional election, Hamas women won more than 90% of the seats in the women’s quota, and Hamas men won a large majority of the seats as well. This was a complete surprise to the Fatah Party, who controlled the Palestinian Authority. They were so surprised, they simply seated the winners. When the regional election was held for the second district, the same thing happened. The Palestinian Authority challenged the results, and there has been no resolution of those challenges. In the face of Hamas’ popularity, the regional elections for the third district were never held.
The U.S. had urged the Palestinian Authority to hold new parliamentary elections. When the results were announced – that Hamas had won the majority of the vote in fair, democratic elections – the U.S. cut off relations on the night of the announcement. There were no talks with Hamas, no discussions about what Hamas would do in the government. Hamas was both surprised and hurt by this reaction. They do not believe they have posed any opposition to U.S. policies other than their opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They were equally shocked that Europe simply followed in the U.S. footsteps.

Hamas has repeatedly tried to open negotiations with the West and sees itself as a moderate Islamic party that can interpose itself between the West and the radical Islamists. It sees itself as a moderate, tolerant party. Hamas has done nothing to impose Sharia, or to interfere with the rights of others.

Asked about the shooting and killing of Fatah members after the takeover she pointed out that, once Hamas took power, the Palestinian Authority ordered all its security personnel to stay home and not report to work. Hamas was forced to deploy a police force very quickly, with inadequate training. They have been working on training and improving that police force ever since. She also agreed that Hamas has its extremists, but that it is very difficult to stop them without showing some tangible benefit for abstaining from extremism.

She said that the youth of Gaza are deeply depressed and bitter. They do not believe they have any prospects for a normal life. We can do without food, she said, but the loss of an entire generation is terrible.

Hamas is working hard for a unity government because it is needed to keep Fatah from completely surrendering all the interests of Palestinians, but believes the Quartet has stopped the formation of such a government by demanding that Hamas specifically recognize Israel. Hamas has agreed to a long term truce, to accept all previous agreements and to accept a state based on the 1967 borders, but this is not enough for the U.S. and its allies. She said that this is not possible politically for Hamas. She likened it to demanding Netanyahu recognize Hamas before beginning any talks.

Asked about the Hamas charter and whether it wanted to destroy Israel, she said you must distinguish between our charter and our actions. Our actions have always been pragmatic and supported a resolution within the 1967 borders.

Asked about suicide bombers, she responded that it is not right to isolate this issue. Israelis have been attacking and killing Palestinians for 60 years, and after the Oslo accords these attacks simply increased.

Asked about her views on the new U.S. government, she said she has some hopes for Obama, but believes Hillary Clinton will remain an obstacle to peace.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Scenes from Gaza March 7-11, 2009

walking through alleyways in Jabilyia Camp, Gaza City
Meeting with Palestinian women who had been detained by Israel
Meeting with leaders of the Center for Human Rights


photos: 1)bombed out residence. 2)I'm with Daniel -center- a paramedic, four of us on the delegation stayed at his home during our time in Gaza, also in photo, on the left, is Daniel's friend Gassan who helped us get around Gaza. 3)we visit with a family - child with bandaged arm suffered shrapnel wounds from the Israeli attack. 4) The Code Pink delegation in front the Egyptian side of the border crossing gate into Gaza. The Corries and Alice Walker are part of group holding banner.

I was part of a delegation of 62 people that entered Gaza on March 7, 2009. The purpose of the trip was to challenge the Israeli/Egyptian & US sanctioned blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, which has been in force since the Palestinian elections of 2006. The people of Gaza are being "collectively punished" for democratically voting Hamas into majority control of the Palestinian national legislature, defeating the late Yassir Arafat's Al Fatah organization. After a brief civil war Hamas took full control of Gaza, it's main base of support, and Fatah remains nominally in charge of the West Bank (under Israeli tutelage).

All of this transpired before the deadly three week air and land attack on Gaza by Israel. The excuse for the attack, which killed 1400 civilians (many of them children and women)and wounded thousands of others, was to stop the rockets launched from Gaza into Israel. For the previous 18 months before the massive attack there was a "truce" observed by both sides. Part of the truce arrangement was that the borders be opened so that Gazans could get food, building materials, cross into Egypt and Israel to work, and in general make a living. Israel never opened the borders. During this truce Israel kept making "surgical" strikes to kill what it called "terrorist leaders." If three or ten people in the vicinity of the strikes were killed, then that's just bad luck. Many more Palestinians were killed in these attacks during the "truce" than Israelis were killed by all improvised rockets ever fired from Gaza.

The massive attack of January 2009 was way out of proportion to the goal of stopping a few low-tech rockets from being launched. In fact it was planned long in advanced and was sitting on the shelf waiting for an excuse to be used.

BUT ... back to my trip!

Besides challenging the blockade of Gaza, Code Pink (a Venice, California-based women's anti-war organization formed to oppose the US invasion of Iraq in 2003) went to participate in International Women's Day meetings throughout Gaza that were organized by UNRWA (United Nations Relief Works Agency). So after gathering in Cairo, the group bussed across the Sinai to the Rafah border crossing (from Rafah, Egypt to Rafah, Palestine).

From our briefings and discussion by email before we all met in Cairo we knew that there was a good chance we would not be allowed in Gaza. The Egyptian government is dependent on U.S aid and is also vulnerable to Israeli pressure to keep up the blockade. There is also no love lost between Hamas and the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarek. So we had a "plan B" ready. We would camp out in front of the border, generally make a nuisance of ourselves and try to get a lot of publicity.

However, we were able to generate a lot of support. We had a large, very diverse group with participants mainly from the US, but also from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and Egypt. Also on the trip were Alice Walker, writer of The Color Purple, and Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie who was murdered by an Israeli bulldozer driver in Gaza while protesting home demolitions in 2003. The Corries have since started a foundation and are highly regarded in the Arab world.

Having sponsorship from the UN organization in Gaza was also helpful. So, rather than fighting us, the Egyptian government decided to join us. Mubarek's wife is the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent Society and while we were gathering at the border we learned that the Red Crescent had officially endorsed our mission. Another factor that eased us through the border was the arrival at the Egypt-Gaza border of a 100 plus vehicle motorcade with humanitarian aid from Britain. They had driven through Europe, entered Morocco and proceeded through North Africa and Egypt. Led by George Galloway, a Member of Parliament for the RESPECT party (he was elected in a largely Muslim district). Galloway has been on the progressive political scene in the UK for some years and is a major thorn in the side of the Labor Party and it's policies of following US world policy.

I entered Gaza with the delegation on March 7 and left with most of the participants on March 11. Several other members of the delegation remained a few days or weeks longer. I was using Spring break time from my teaching job to make the trip & had to be back for classes.


I had been to embattled, desperately poor countries before. I spent most of the 1980s shuffling between the US and Nicaragua working to help the Sandinista revolution in the face of the US/contra aggression. But I had no idea what to expect in Gaza. It is definitely a different place. I had never been to the Mideast before.

Palestine is not historically as poor as Central America. They've had a history of small businesses, orchards, farms, and have struggled to give good education to their children. The Israelis have been undermining these accomplishments step by step in an attempt to break their morale as a people. With the blockade the standard of living has been falling rapidly. Besides the economic degradation, a public health risk has been created by the Israeli's depletion of Gaza's water table. They have been pumping out fresh water from Gaza which has caused salt water from the sea to seep into the groundwater. Children as especially susceptible to kidney problems as the salinity of the drinking water increases.

The Gaza strip is 25 miles long south to north and 3 to 7 miles wide from the sea to the Israeli border. On March 8, I helped deliver 1000 baskets with cosmetics and consumer products which were gifts to Palestinian women attending UN sponsored International Women's Day meetings. It was something for the men on the delegation to do. We had a truck loaded with baskets and I was in a car following the truck. We made deliveries from border to border. I got to see all of Gaza in less than half a day. One and a half million people are packed into this small strip of land. Because of the blockade most people are unemployed and most families depend on UN food aid to live.

Most of the population of Gaza comes from Palestinians who were chased off their land by the Israeli army in 1948. Gaza is a mostly urban place with lots of buildings of a few stories, say 4 to 7, packed closely together. Often entire extended families live in one multi-story buildings. The main refugee camp in Gaza City, Jabalyia, has 125,000 people. The camp is not one of tents but of cement building with narrow alleyways. There are commercial centers with small stores and eating places, markets and car traffic (also a lot of horse and donkey cart traffic).

The large number of children is also striking. Something like 40% of the population is 15 and under. Many of the children looked sort of dazed or shell shocked. When I met families, I saw a few children who had been wounded in the Israeli assault. Everyone had a story about children being killed in bombings or shot by Apache gunships or snipers on the ground.

The first two nights I was in Gaza I heard loud bangs. In the morning our hosts and their neighbors talked about where the Israeli airstrike took place or if it was an F16 or an Apache. After I left Gaza I heard by email of other attacks. This is as close to a state of "normalcy" that Gaza ever achieves.

Walking though the streets you would see a row of buildings and one or two would be demolished by F-16 or Apache helicopter strikes. Some of the buildings hit were police stations, Hamas offices, government buildings, but others were medical clinics, schools, or residences. Daniel, a Palestinian paramedic in whose house four of us were staying, showed us around different neighborhoods. "In this house everybody died, a family of 12," "Over here six kids were killed, it was just a house nothing political."Daniel himself is a story. He is a 28 year old Ukrainian-Palestinian who grew up in the Ukraine, his mother was a ballerina, and at age 20 he came to Palestine to help his people. He is a nurse and a paramedic (which he became while in the Ukrainian army). He lives in his family house in Jabalyia on the first floor. The other floors house his three uncle's families.

Daniel speaks Ukrainian, Arabic and English. Sometimes I heard him speaking Ukrainian on his cell phone. "There are a few of us around here," he said, "and I call my mother a lot too." He knew Rachel Corrie and was driving the ambulance that responded to the emergency call when Rachel Corrie was killed and took her body to the hospital.

Some of the neighborhoods on the eastern border with Israel were largely leveled. They bore the brunt of the leading forces of the ground attack. We saw people in tents provided by the UN living next to their wrecked homes. Some families, despite warnings of the risk, lived in their partially destroyed homes. As we toured the area we were warned not to go through the wrecked homes or pick up anything. Unexploded cluster bombs or white phosphorus remained around the area.

Besides getting to know individual Palestinians and seeing the war damage first hand members of the delegation also attended meetings with different groups, many of them were NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that had UN sponsorship, such as women's health and right groups, children's centers, legal organizations, agricultural groups, student groups, etc. From funds that delegation participants were able to raise before their Trip Code Pink made a cash donation of $10,000 to a Community Mental Health Clinic, a Women's Center and a Children's center.

A few meetings made a special impression. We met with the head of the UN operation, John Ging, an Irishman, veteran international relief worker, diplomat and scholar. You may remember news reports on the Israel attack on the UN school where several people were killed. Israel claimed that Hamas was firing mortars from the UN school grounds. John Ging was shown on national TV newscasts denouncing these claims as bogus. He became an object of ire for the pro-Israeli lobby such as AIPAC and certain morally corrupt members of the US Senate and Congress.

Most of the people we spoke to, both average citizens and representatives of various groups said that they didn't support any particular party. They wanted peace, they wanted us to tell the American people that they were not terrorists and they expressed hope for a unified government. While we were in Gaza leaders of the PLO were in Egypt negotiating with Hamas leaders.

So this is a thumbnail sketch of what I experience in Gaza. I'll be adding other stories to flesh out the picture, as well as adding some pictures -- some I took, and many were taken by participants in the Code Pink delegation. Also you should go the the Code Pink website to see more stories and photos from Gaza.



Reporting from Jerusalem -- Two months after ending its assault on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army was confronted Thursday by the first public allegations from within its ranks of unwarranted killings and other abuses of Palestinian civilians.

The reports in a military institute's newsletter resembled accounts given by many Palestinians during and after the winter offensive. In gripping language cited by two Israeli newspapers, they appeared to support contentions by some human rights groups that Israel had violated the laws of war.

One squad leader said he argued with his commander over rules of engagement that allowed the army to clear out houses by shooting the residents without warning.

"When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story," he was quoted as saying. "Each story, if we identify a person, we shoot them. I asked myself: 'How is this reasonable?' "

A second squad leader said that in a separate case a sniper shot and killed a woman and two children because of miscommunication with the Palestinians and between Israeli units. Soldiers quoted by the daily Haaretz also said wanton destruction of civilian property was common.

Israeli officials had earlier dismissed such accounts, as well as Palestinian claims that almost 1,000 civilians died in the assault, as Palestinian propaganda. Most Israelis supported the 22-day operation, which was aimed at halting years of rocket fire by Hamas militants. They blamed Hamas for civilian casualties in Gaza because its fighters operated in urban neighborhoods.

But the vivid firsthand reports by soldiers who took part in the fighting set off soul-searching in Israel and prompted the army's judge advocate-general to order a special investigation. The military had already launched its own broad review of its conduct during the war. In a statement Thursday, it said it was not aware of the reported incidents.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak repeated Israel's traditional description of its armed forces as "the most moral in the world."

But he added, "This does not mean that there are no irregularities, and I have no doubt that this will be studied seriously."

The soldiers gave their accounts last month at an assembly for students enrolled in a military preparatory school, the Yitzhak Rabin academy. A transcript of the session appeared this week in the academy's newsletter, and excerpts were published in the newspapers Thursday and today.

"We heard about what appeared to be grave incidents, unjustified fire at civilians and vandalism of property," said Danny Zamir, a retired army officer who heads the academy. "But of more concern was the unbridled contempt and reckless disregard for Palestinians."

Zamir said he passed the reports to the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

According to an account by a squad leader, an Israeli sharpshooter killed a Palestinian woman and her two children after they misunderstood another soldier's order and turned the wrong way. The sharpshooter had not been told the civilians were being released from the house where they were confined and, in compliance with standing orders, opened fire when they approached.

"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all . . . he did his job according to the orders he was given," the squad leader was quoted as saying.

"And the atmosphere in general [was that] the lives of Palestinians, let's say, are something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers, so as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way."

In another incident, a different squad leader said an elderly woman was shot dead on orders of a company commander as she walked on a road about 100 yards away.

That squad leader said he argued with his commander over the rules of engagement.

Another soldier quoted in the reports said troops felt they could write "Death to the Arabs" on the walls of homes, toss furniture out the windows and spit on family pictures "just because you can."

Neither the soldiers who spoke out nor those who committed alleged abuses were identified in the transcript. Zamir said those who reported abuses "felt uncomfortable because they could not prevent them."

Several officers and soldiers who were not at the gathering said they were surprised by the accounts.

"It's hard for me to believe these things happened. They seem unfounded," Assaf Dantziger, a 21-year-old soldier who fought in Gaza, told the Ynet online news service. If the soldiers saw comrades doing wrong, he added, "they should have done something about it instead of running out and talking."

Moshe Hager, a retired brigadier general who heads a different military academy, said: "I do not believe a sniper would see a child in his sights and shoot him. But if such a thing happened it must be investigated."

Human rights groups have accused Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has put the Palestinian death toll in Gaza at 1,434, including 960 civilians. Israeli officials say the civilian toll is inflated but have acknowledged that the army used overwhelming force in order to minimize its own casualties.

Thirteen Israelis were killed in the fighting in Gaza or by cross-border rocket fire.

The military's own inquiry includes a review of allegations of abuse made by rights groups, but it has announced nofindings of wrongdoing.

Amos Harel, a military correspondent for Haaretz, suggested Thursday that the inquiry was a whitewash.

Those being queried are at the company commander level and higher, he said, and "the rule is 'you don't ask, we won't tell.' "

"The ones who finally let the dark secrets out were the soldiers in the combat units," Harel wrote. "Somewhere along the way their moral warning lights went off."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cambodia 1970, Pakistan 2009: Will Predators create new Khmer Rouge?

A striking parallel has occurred to me. It's not a one to one analogy in terms of scale, but there's a similar cause and effect relationship. Remember the Khmer Rouge? The monstrosity that murdered millions of Cambodians during its tenure in power in the 1970s? What social factors led to its creation and insane actions?

During the Vietnam war the US wanted to stop the flow of reinforcements and supplies from North Vietnam to the National Liberation Front's fighters in the South. The route of roads and footpaths that carried this traffic was called the "Ho Chi Minh trail" and it ran along the Vietnam-Cambodian border. The US also complained that the neutralist Cambodian government of Prince Sihanouk was tolerating the existence of NLF "sanctuaries" in Cambodia. Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970, which sparked mass protests in the US, was supposed to eliminate this problem.

This move led to the ousting of Sihanouk and the installation of Lon Nol as a US backed military dictator. Encouraged to wipe out any Vietnamese presence and to "pacify" the countryside in which an indigenous revolutionary movement was operating, Nixon ordered what was bizarrely called the "secret bombing" of Cambodia. It wasn't a secret to the villagers who were being bombed, or those who did the bombing... Anyway, large numbers of bombing runs by B-52s were carried out and thousands of villages were obliterated. These were not what could be called "surgical strikes."

The result? As we all know the US lost the Indochina war and it's client states in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia collapsed. What was achieved by the "secret bombing" in Cambodia was the total destruction of the fabric of village society. This facilitated the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge (the Chinese wanted a counterweight to the USSR in the region) in attracting, indoctrinating and arming thousands of very young refugees into a vengeance-seeking army, which marched into Pnom Phen in 1975 and began a reign of mass murder. This implacable, child/peasant army was unleashed to eradicate anyone or thing associated with cities, foreigners, education, etc.

This bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge and it's leader Pol Pot was ended via Vietnamese military intervention in 1979. It should be noted that the US government protested this action by the Vietnamese and gave diplomatic and military support to the exiled Khmer Rouge for several years.

Now think about the US military's remotely controlled Predator aircraft missile strikes in the Pakistani territory bordering Afghanistan. Not exactly saturation bombing by B52s, but killing defenseless villagers on a retail scale rather than wholesale can bring about similar results. You can immediately discount any claims that only "bad guys" (this commonly used term denotes the true depth of thinking involved in policy making) are being hit. Smart bombs, stupid bombs, marginally intelligent bombs... this has always been a scam. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, wherever such bombing is done, civilians, children, families are killed and maimed.

I'm not sure Predator strikes in Pakistan will destroy village life and drive thousands of young men whose families have been killed or wounded into ranks of armed fundamentalists. But perhaps it will, or is currently doing so. Everything adds up when pursuing a destructive self-defeating policy, as the US is doing. Military solutions to social and political problems, "good guys" vs "bad guys," body counts ... the Vietnam era stupidities have been successfully passed on to a new generation of military morons.