26 de noviembre de 2008

The slow death of Gaza

(by Andrea Becker)
It has been two weeks since Israel imposed a complete closure of Gaza, after months when its crossings have been open only for the most minimal of humanitarian supplies. Now it is even worse: two weeks without United Nations food trucks for the 80% of the population entirely dependent on food aid, and no medical supplies or drugs for Gaza's ailing hospitals. No fuel (paid for by the EU) for Gaza's electricity plant, and no fuel for the generators during the long blackouts. Last Monday morning, 33 trucks of food for UN distribution were finally let in – a few days of few supplies for very few, but as the UN asks, then what?
Israel's official explanation for blocking even minimal humanitarian aid, according to IDF spokesperson Major Peter Lerner, was "continued rocket fire and security threats at the crossings". Israel's blockade, in force since Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-2007, can be described as an intensification of policies designed to isolate the population of Gaza, cripple its economy, and incentivise the population against Hamas by harsh – and illegal – measures of collective punishment. However, these actions are not all new: the blockade is but the terminal end of Israel's closure policy, in place since 1991, which in turn builds on Israel's policies as occupier since 1967.
In practice, Israel's blockade means the denial of a broad range of items – food, industrial, educational, medical – deemed "non-essential" for a population largely unable to be self-sufficient at the end of decades of occupation. It means that industrial, cooking and diesel fuel, normally scarce, are virtually absent now. There are no queues at petrol stations; they are simply shut. The lack of fuel in turn means that sewage and treatment stations cannot function properly, resulting in decreased potable water and tens of millions of litres of untreated or partly treated sewage being dumped into the sea every day. Electricity cuts – previously around eight hours a day, now up to 16 hours a day in many areas – affect all homes and hospitals. Those lucky enough to have generators struggle to find the fuel to make them work, or spare parts to repair them when they break from overuse. Even candles are running out.
There can be no dispute that measures of collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza are illegal under international humanitarian law. Fuel and food cannot be withheld or wielded as reward or punishment. But international law was tossed aside long ago. The blockade has been presented as punishment for the democratic election of Hamas, punishment for its subsequent takeover of Gaza, and punishment for militant attacks on Israeli civilians. The civilians of Gaza, from the maths teacher in a United Nations refugee camp to the premature baby in an incubator, properly punished for actions over which they have no control, will rise up and get rid of Hamas. Or so it goes.
And so what of these civilian agents of political change?
For all its complexities and tragedies, the over-arching effect of Israel's blockade has been to reduce the entire population to survival mode. Individuals are reduced to the daily detail of survival, and its exhaustions.
Consider Gaza's hospital staff. In hospitals, the blockade is as seemingly benign as doctors not having paper upon which to write diagnostic results or prescriptions, and as sinister as those seconds – between power cut and generator start – when a child on life support doesn't have the oxygen of a mechanical ventilator. A nurse on a neo-natal ward rushes between patients, battling the random schedule of power cuts. A hospital worker tries to keep a few kidney dialysis machines from breaking down, by farming spare parts from those that already have. The surgeon operates without a bulb in the surgery lamp, across from the anaesthetist who can no longer prevent patient pain. The hospital administrator updates lists of essential drugs and medical supplies that have run out, which vaccines from medical fridges are now unusable because they can't be kept cold, and which procedures must be cancelled altogether. The ambulance driver decides whether to respond to an emergency call, based on dwindling petrol in the tank.
By reducing the population to survival mode, the blockade robs people of the time and essence to do anything but negotiate the minutiae of what is and isn't possible in their personal and professional lives. Whether any flour will be available to make bread, where it might be found, how much it now costs. Rich or poor, taxi drivers, human rights defenders, and teachers alike spend hours speculating about where a canister of cooking gas might be found. Exhaustion is gripping hold of all in Gaza. Survival leaves little if no room for political engagement – and beyond exhaustion, anger and frustration are all that is left.

25 de noviembre de 2008

Corporate Giants Force Obama to Drop Campaign Promises

During the 2008 presidential election cycle, President-elect Barack Obama made two key campaign promises which would have directed billions of dollars into the middle class economy. With the election behind him, it seems that President-elect Barack Obama has now broken his promise to enact a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry which would have provided a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to American families, as well as his promise to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants.

Prior to his election, President-elect Obama made a promise to initiate a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry to fund a $1000 tax rebate for families. The promise was displayed prominently at the top of the economy section of Obama's campaign website. That same information was transferred to Obama's transition website, www.change.gov, but was recently removed in an unceremonious and abrupt manner. (Pre-change, http://www.asbl.com/documents/Economy_Change.pdf ; Post-change, http://change.gov/agenda/economy_agenda/ )

In February, President-elect Obama said, "Small businesses are the backbone of our nation's economy and we must protect this great resource. It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants." (http://www.barackobama.com/2008/02/26/the_american_small_business_le.php)

Since 2003, a series of more than a dozen federal investigations have found that every year billions of dollars in federal small business contracts are diverted to some of the largest corporations in the United States and Europe. Investigative stories by ABC, CBS, and CNN (http://www.asbl.com/media2.php) have all found that billions of dollars in government small business contracts actually went to firms such as Dell, Home Depot, John Deere, Xerox, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, GTSI, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Titan Industries, Northrop Grumman, Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace (BAE).

Obama's pledge to end the diversion of small business contracts to corporate giants has now been completely eliminated from the change.gov website.

The sudden elimination of these two issues from change.gov would seem to indicate that large corporations are already flexing their muscles with the Obama Administration and demonstrating their ability to control presidential policy over the will of the American people.

"He hasn't been inaugurated yet and we are already witnessing the elimination of policies that would have greatly benefited the middle class economy in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in our lifetimes," President of the American Small Business League Lloyd Chapman said. "I endorsed him, I voted for him, and I supported him and now I feel betrayed. He is obviously already going back on campaign promises. I think all small business owners should be concerned. Based upon the extremely low priority that Obama has placed upon small business issues, it would not surprise me if he tried to completely close the Small Business Administration by combining it with the United States Department of Commerce."

12 de noviembre de 2008

Haniyeh: Hamas Would Accept 1967 Borders

Israel’s fuel blockade comes just days after Haniyeh said Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. A 1967-based solution would mean Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Israel continues to build settlements. Haniyeh made the comments at a meeting with European lawmakers who had sailed from Cyprus to protest Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Bush autorizó ataques estadounidenses en cualquier parte del mundo

El New York Times reveló que las Fuerzas Armadas estadounidenses han llevado a cabo casi una docena de ataques secretos en Siria, Pakistán y otros países desde el año 2004. Estos ataques fueron aprobados por una orden clasificada firmada por el Secretario de Defensa Donald Rumsfeld y autorizada por el Presidente Bush. Esta orden autoriza los ataques militares estadounidenses en cualquier parte del mundo si pueden ser relacionados con un blanco de Al-Qaeda. El ataque estadounidense del mes pasado contra Siria aparentemente fue el último caso conocido de esta política. Siria dice que ocho civiles murieron. Estos ataques generalmente fueron llevados a cabo con la colaboración de la CIA.

Estados Unidos admite haber matado a 37 afganos en ataque durante una boda

En Afganistán, Estados Unidos admitió que mató a 37 civiles e hirió a docenas más en un ataque militar la semana pasada. Las víctimas fueron bombardeadas durante una fiesta de casamiento en las afueras de la ciudad de Kandahar. El Pentágono dice que Estados Unidos bombardeó el área tras ser atacado por militantes. Esta fue la vez que el Pentágono reconoció más rápidamente una matanza de civiles afganos hasta la fecha. Estados Unidos demoró casi dos meses en admitir que había matado a noventa civiles en un ataque similar que tuvo lugar en agosto.

6 de noviembre de 2008

Israel Attacks Gaza

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, fighting has reignited between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters in Gaza. Earlier today, Palestinians fired a barrage of rockets after the Israeli military attacked areas inside Gaza. At least six Palestinians were killed, including one civilian. It was the first major Israeli air strike on Gaza since June.

Witnesses: Dozens of Afghans Killed in US Attack

In other news, dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed in a US air strike in southern Afghanistan. Witnesses in Kandahar province say the victims were attending a wedding party when they came under attack. Al Jazeera is reporting some thirty civilians were killed, with many more trapped under the debris.