The Cease-Fire of August 26, 2014
After 50 days of warfare, 8 failed cease-fires, and the disastrous toll of 2,192 killed and 11,000 wounded on one side (most of them civilians), 73 killed and 556 wounded on the other side (most of them soldiers), an "unlimited cease-fire" was finally declared on Tuesday, August 26, starting at 7 p.m., with all the factions concerned - not only Israel and Hamas, but also Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and PRC. The main issues remain to be negotiated though :
- the monitoring of permanent passage to and from Israel and Egypt, with unrestricted access for foreign civilians, rehabilitation teams, members of the European Parliament, diplomats...
- the actual opening to normal, regular commercial transactions
- the release of West Bank prisoners (both arbitrarily detained and longest-serving),
- the construction of a seaport, and the reconstruction of the airport,
to really "enable Gaza to open to the world, guarantee the possibility of a viable economy, and improve the humanitarian situation", as required in the Open the Doors Campaign.
So that the future will not become even worse than the status quo ante, both sides must agree to an unlimited pact of mutual non-aggression, with the properly empowered monitoring and verification missions, to ensure that there be no further violations or provocations.
Peace Lines Communiqué of August 25, 2014
Facing the unsustainable war of attrition between Gaza and Israel, we exhort all leaders presently involved in negotiations for a permanent cease-fire to abide by universal humanitarian standards. The erratic war mechanisms holding civilians hostage on both sides must be exposed as counter-productive and conducive to terror.
In their clarion call, more than 300 survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants remind us : “Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.”
1,800,000 people have been under blockade for seven years, making this the longest siege in modern history. 500,000 persons have been displaced in Gaza. Around Gaza, 70% of the Israelis have had to evacuate their homes.
Since 2008, 69 Nobel laureates and 587 Members of the European Parliament (231 in the current mandate) have engaged themselves with the n.g.o. Peace Lines in the “Open the Doors Campaign”. Its four fundamental objectives remain :
1. The Gaza blockade must end. Israel must enable Gaza to open to the world, so as to guarantee the possibility of a viable economy, and improve the humanitarian situation.
2. The Palestinians must end all rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.
3. The cycle of deadly reprisals must end, including “targeted assassinations”.
4. As a confidence-building measure, the Israelis, who still hold more than 5,000 men and 15 women in their jails, must release significant numbers of prisoners on humanitarian and legal grounds : sick prisoners, women detainees, the longest-serving prisoners, and administrative detainees – among them 25 Members of the Palestinian Parliament, not to forget 200 minors in detention.
Striving for these objectives implies credible negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government. So that both peoples may at last live in security, dignity and justice, we urge the European Union – in view of its embedded involvement in the history of the Middle East – to assume its inherent responsibility as guarantor of a sustainable resolution.
Among the most influential signatories of the Open the Doors Campaign : Peace Nobel laureates : Archbishop Tutu from South-Africa, the Dalai Lama, Irishman John Hume, ex-US President Carter, Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Jody Williams...; Literature laureates : American author Toni Morrison, Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, Australian author John Coetzee from South-Africa...; Chemistry laureates : Roald Hoffmann, Sir Aaron Klug, Yuan T. Lee...; Medicine laureates : Richard Roberts, Torsten Wiesel, Harald zur Hausen...; Physics laureates : Zhores Alferov, Brian Josephson, Jack Steinberger...; Economics laureates : George Akerlof, Daniel Kahneman, Sir James Mirrlees; film director Jean-Luc Godard, Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, Warsaw ghetto survivor Martin Gray, Israeli writers David Grossman and Amos Oz. 3 Former Presidents of the European Parliament Nicole Fontaine, Hans-Gert Pöttering, Jerzy Buzek, and 6 Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament in 2014 : Mairead McGuinness, Ildiko Gall-Pelcz, Ryszard Czarnecki, Sylvie Guillaume, Ulrike Lunacek, Dimitrios Papadimoulis.
War in the Summer of 2014
The new year got off to a bad start. For the first time since 2009, we did not get the needed permit to enter Gaza. Hence our Bilingual Experimental Programme was interrupted. So was our network of relations, since the people we know in Gaza scarcely use internet, nor do they use the phone. Needless to say, there are no postal services in Gaza. No letter would get there.
February 2014 : our file was classified as “in progress”. April 2014 : still “in progress”. Blame it on a change in personnel at the gates, or what, we were told we were not considered (anymore) as “humanitarian”.
We pleaded countless times at different levels, still the ax would fall : no access. Bad omen, if anything. Our work proceeded, but in the West Bank only, in various universities, from Jenin to Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem.
Not to underestimate the influence of higher education : good books and the study of languages will take you a long way indeed. Came June 2, 2014, and we learnt that Dr Rami Hamdallah, a linguist who had been President of the An Najah University in Nablus, was confirmed as Prime Minister, at the head of the second Government of National Unity, after the brutal demise of the first one, in the summer of 2006, when some forty members of the Palestinian legislature were taken prisoners (as a retaliatory measure against the capture of the young tank operator Gilad Shalit) – among them, the Vice Prime Minister Nasser Al Shaer, who also was “our minister”, the Minister of Education, the man who was instrumental in getting the Palestinian National Authority to support our Experimental Bilingual Programme in April 2006.
This government is in charge of preparing the next general elections, a process that was frozen in 2006, with the massive arrest of legislators mentioned above.
To us, an encouraging piece of news, since it was established in 2006 that only a strong government, representing all the tendancies of Palestinian public opinion, could implement our Experimental Programme. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Government_of_2014]
This ray of renewed hope did not last long. On June 12, ten days barely after the unity government was formed, three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped in an Israeli-controlled area, and from there all hell broke loose. Immediately, “Hamas” was designated as the prime suspect, which led to the massive arrests of more than 500 of its members and sympathizers in the West Bank. Among them, Dr Aziz Dweik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament – as such, according to Palestinian institutions, the second-in-line after President Abbas.
Strangely, Dr Dweik is the exact opposite of an extremist. A professor in urban geography, with a Ph D in Regional and Architecture Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, practically his whole family has been involved in medical and pharmaceutical studies. Reminding us of the poet’s quote : “they locked up a man who wanted to rule the world; the fools locked up the wrong man”.
Could Dr Dweik be held responsible in anything for the kidnapping of the three teenagers ? Or Hamas for that matter, the usual Bête Noire ? An Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, gives troubling clues on that case, in his inquiry published by Al Monitor, on June 29 : "Accused kidnappers are rogue Hamas branch".
Sadly, and strangely enough, the very next day, the bodies of the three young hitch-hikers were found a few miles away from Hebron, in “Qawasmeh territory”. By Shlomi Eldar again, read "Hebron branch of rogue Hamas wing has dark history" (published on July 2).
More strangely still : the two suspects, members of that “rogue wing” hadn’t been found two months after the crime.
On the same day, July 2, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped in the Northern suburb of Jerusalem, and burned alive in the small Jerusalem Forest, as “retaliation” for the triple murder in the West Bank.
Six days later, the Israeli Defense Forces launched their “Mighty Cliff Operation” against Gaza, due to the number of rockets fired from there in June and early July.
On this matter, people are of two conflicting views. Some claim that these rockets (including the long-range rockets that can hit Haifa or Jerusalem) are as nothing, since more than 4,000 of them "only" killed 1 civilian, a Bedouin in the Negev desert (in the first days of July). Their contradictors hold the view that just one rocket is enough to drive people crazy and trigger a carnage : on June 28, a paint factory in Sderot was struck by a Qassam, setting it ablaze, sending a huge column of smoke in the sky; on July 3, a short-range Qassam hit a day camp in Sderot, just minutes before the children were due to arrive. On July 11, on the 4th day of the military operation against Gaza, a longer-range rocket hit a gas station in Ashdod, about 40 km from Gaza City, setting it on fire, seriously injuring a disabled man, wounding seven others.
Numbers speak volumes though, when compared to the tolls of the previous operations. As of August 31, 2014, an estimated 11,000 Palestinians have been wounded in 51 days (as opposed to less than 7,000 in 8 years) and around 2,200 have been killed according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza (most of them civilians) - crushing the number of 1,400 for “Cast Lead” and 622 killed for the other four operations altogether. In the same period 66 Israeli soldiers and officers were killed (+6 civilians), 470 of them wounded (+90 civilians).
400,000 Gazans have become refugees in schools, mosques, public structures, including a few churches, or at distant relatives’. Ominously, one of the UN schools was hit by a shell, on July 30, and fifteen refugees were killed in their sleep. UN Aid Chief Pierre Krahenbuhl warned that this was the 6th time one of their schools had been targeted by shelling (check Daily Mail : July 31, 2014). On August 3, another UN school was hit, with some 3,000 displaced persons inside, leaving more than 10 killed (check BBC : UN school hit in Rafah). No place is safe anymore.
The Al Najjar family, who had escaped heavy shelling in their village near the Eastern border to find refuge with relatives in densely populated Khan City, was hit by a missile on July 26, leaving 11 children and 5 women killed. Around thirty of them died in a few days in both locations. Where to go from there?
In what ways this concerns us, and strikes us too :
The boys you see in the pictures [Gaza (Palestine)] are students in Shujaieh, East of Gaza City - the area, with Khuza'a, that most suffered from the military operation in mid-July 2014. How can they relate to Dr King’s approach to non-violent choices, non-violent resistance now ?
The man who took their pictures is a member of the Al Najjar family. How can he continue with our programme, and its philosophy ?
“I believe that even today amid rocket bursts and bullets whining, there’s still hope for a brighter tomorrow” ?
Make no mistake : the one-ton bombs and the $100,000 Hellfire missiles presently targeting Gaza, along with the 32,000 155 mm tank shells fired in July, have not destroyed “the infrastructures of terror” (or if they have here and there, they will be rebuilt in no time). Rather, they have created irreversible damage to the minds of 1 million children and teenagers, making our work in the wake of this onslaught all the more difficult. Almost impossible, in the aftermath of this “inhuman war”.
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