The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Mouin Rabbani on Human Rights Watch and the Gaza Massacre

By Mouin Rabbani

The Middle East has always been a difficult challenge for Western human rights organizations, particularly those seeking influence or funding in the United States. The pressure to go soft on US allies is in some respects reminiscent of Washington’s special pleading for Latin American terror regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Israel such organizations also face a powerful and influential domestic constituency, which often extends to senior echelons of such organizations, for whom forthright condemnation of Israel is anathema.

Given that Israel is reliant on US subventions and public goodwill to a degree without precedent in the history of American foreign policy, there is considerably more than vanity at stake. If Israel’s stature in the United States were to be reduced to that of South Africa during the apartheid era, or Serbia during the Balkan wars, this would almost certainly have material consequences for the “special relationship”. It is a reality very unlike that between the US and Saudi Arabia, for example, in which the American public’s longstanding contempt for the House of Saud has proven basically inconsequential. In Israel’s case, image is a political resource of the first order, and its preservation a matter of national security.

Until the mid-1980s, before which Israel’s human rights violations — from deportation to area bombing and all in-between — were generally several orders of magnitude worse than during the subsequent quarter century, the human rights community simply ignored the question of Israel. If challenged, organizations would respond that in view of limited resources they had to go after serious violators, like Ba’thist Iraq and Iran under the Shah, or hide behind an Israeli judiciary that although essential to the machinery of occupation at least went through the motions of oversight, or express fears of being tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism (or all of the above). In private, such justifications would be augmented by references to political pressures and funding issues, often with a barb at one or more director or board members’ Zionist sympathies thrown in. That the first widespread exposure of the systematic application of torture in Israel’s prison system was reported by the Sunday Times rather than Amnesty International was no mere coincidence.

The eruption of the Palestinian uprising in December 1987 made it impossible for human rights organizations to continue relegating the question of Israel to the backburner. With Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin publicly exhorting Israel’s soldiers to “break the bones” of unarmed Palestinian protestors, and television images that made it impossible to explain away such barbarism as a mistranslated rhetorical flourish, human rights organizations faced a real quandary: ignore the question of Israel and lose credibility, or confront it and lose support.

By and large they chose a third way, producing reports that were often strong on documentation but exceptionally weak when it came to conclusions and consequences. No less importantly, they adopted the criteria of ‘balance’. In effect, a Hubble telescope was deployed to discover Palestinian actions that could in any way be considered violations of International Humanitarian Law, with these subsequently placed under an industrial-strength microscope. Treatment of Israeli actions was rather more selective and careful. Primary issues such as the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or its settlement enterprise in the occupied territories were avoided; detailed analysis of Israeli abuses, like deportation and summary executions, that indisputably constituted “grave breaches” of the Fourth Geneva Convention (the latter’s equivalent of war crimes) steered clear of unambiguous conclusions; and on the key issue of how to resolve the human rights emergency, such reports typically ended with exhortations to the Israeli government and military to show greater concern for Palestinian rights — as opposed to demands that Western governments use their various forms of aid to Israel as leverage to halt abuses.

In the process any sense of context, of this being a struggle for freedom by a dispossessed and occupied people against a colonial army — a context that in other cases the human rights community communicated so well — was entirely lost. All the more so because Israel was systematically spared the type of rhetoric and denunciations typically deployed with respect to similar situations in other continents and domestic repression in Arab states. If it was an approach that left neither the victims nor apologists of Israeli human rights violations satisfied, it at least met their minimal requirements — unprecedented exposure for the Palestinians, continued impunity for Israel. More importantly, it enabled the human rights organizations in question to navigate the storm and emerge relatively unscathed.

The Oslo agreements of 1993 provided a welcome development in this respect. Henceforth, ‘balance’ could be maintained by releasing reports on both the Israeli and Palestinian Authority judiciary, discrimination against Arabs in Israel and of violence against women in the occupied territories, torture in Israeli as well as Palestinian prisons. The idea of an overarching regime of occupation primarily responsible for both sets of violations — a concept that came so naturally when discussing the brutalities inflicted on the residents of South Africa’s ethnic homelands — rarely entered into the fray.

The onset of the Al-Aqsa Uprising in September 2000 posed a new set of challenges. Israel’s image was once again under unprecedented pressure on account of its savage attacks on Palestinians throughout the occupied territories, while committed staff on the ground — motivated by a combination of genuine concern and professional honour — exercised significant pressure on human rights organizations to step up to the plate. At the same time, particularly after 11 September 2001, such organizations were under massive pressure by right-wing and pro-Israeli forces — the latter of whom often tended towards the liberal end of the spectrum — to toe the line. Nowhere was this more true than at Human Rights Watch, an American organization that by the late 1990s had emerged as the industry leader.

In the years since 2000, HRW pursued a consistent — and consistently effective — formula: criticize Israel, but condemn the Palestinians. Challenge the legality of an Israeli aerial bombardment, preferably in polite, technical terms, and vociferously denounce the Palestinian suicide bomber in unambiguous language — especially when raising questions about the latest Israeli atrocity. In HRW publications, explicit condemnations and accusations of war crimes were almost wholly monopolized by Palestinians. With Israeli citizenship a seeming precondition for the right to self-defense, the right to resist was for all intents and purposes non-existent.

Where — as with the obliteration of a good portion of the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002 — accusations of Israeli war crimes could not be avoided, HRW diluted these by just as prominently reporting that it did not find evidence of much worse atrocities. Its major report on the issue, Jenin: IDF Military Operations, was several months later ‘balanced’ by Erased in a Moment: Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians.

One need only compare the titles of these two reports to surmise which party to the conflict stands accused of perpetrating “atrocities” that HRW “unreservedly condemns”, “war crimes”, and indeed “crimes against humanity”; in which of the two cases HRW repeatedly demands that all those with command or operational responsibility — and they are many indeed — face “criminal liability”; whose national leader must, despite HRW’s finding no evidence of command responsibility, face “accountability” for not preventing the acts of others, as well as for “significant political responsibility for the deliberate killing of civilians”; and whose actions HRW concludes “are among the worst crimes that can be committed, crimes of universal jurisdiction that the international community as a whole has an obligation to punish and prevent”.

A comparison of the two reports’ covers might also help readers judge whether it was Israel or the Palestinians who are merely referred for further examination: “Every case in the report listed below warrants additional thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation, with the results of such an investigation made public. Where wrongdoing is found, those responsible should be held accountable”.

Needless to say the press release accompanying Erased in a Moment did not, as in the case of the Jenin report, use the opening paragraph to shift discussion to more sensational allegations for which no evidence could be found — such as “HRW researchers were unable to substantiate published claims by prominent advocates of Israel that Palestinian suicide bombers have been lacing their explosives with AIDS, hepatitis and rat poison”. Its summary did however delve extensively — in fact primarily — on the person of Yasir Arafat, even though most suicide bombings were carried out by rival organizations and HRW concluded he was not involved in attacks carried out by his Fatah organization. It was presumably a simple coincidence that HRW’s highly critical account of the late Palestinian leader — occupying significantly more space in the report summary than Hamas and Islamic Jihad combined — was published at the height of the Bush administration’s campaign for Palestinian regime change.

Moving forward, and in an incident that might otherwise be considered comic, HRW in November 2006 went so far as to denounce Palestinians who refused to vacate homes threatened with imminent aerial bombardment, rather than the state bent on obliterating their houses, as war criminals. By the time it retracted its claims in a rare recantation — the howls of outrage from less partisan lawyers and human rights professionals were simply too loud to be ignored — the damage had already been done.

Interestingly, Palestinians were denounced by HRW on the legally correct (but in this case factually inaccurate) assumption that “It is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attack”. Yet HRW’s 2002 report, In a Dark Hour: The Use of Civilians During IDF Arrest Operations, which according to the accompanying press release “documents how the IDF routinely has taken civilians at gunpoint to open suspicious packages, knock on doors of suspects, and search the houses of ‘wanted’ Palestinians during its military operations”, pointedly declines to define human shielding as a war crime. Indeed, the only differences between the documented 2002 cases and falsely alleged 2006 incidents are that the former were conducted by Israel and reached the level of systematic practice.

In 2006 HRW additionally leveled war crimes charges against Palestinian militants who captured Gilad Shalit — a uniformed soldier on active duty — on the grounds that they intended to exchange him for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Consequently, the main and clearest finding of “Israel: Gaza Offensive Must Limit Harm to Civilians” (28 June 2006), is that “A hostage is a person held in the power of an adversary in order to obtain specific actions, such as the release of prisoners, from the other party to the conflict … which is a war crime under the laws of war”. Against this apparently unprecedented act in the annals of military history, Israel’s own actions, which included the mass arrest of Palestinian parliamentarians and in some respects resembled a test run for Israel’s latest onslaught on the Gaza Strip (and which were the alleged subject of the press release), elicited only legal exegesis, shorn of meaningful conclusions.

More recently, the organization has issued a fatwa that any Arab launching a projectile at an Israeli target is by definition a war criminal, because such rockets and mortars are — unlike the state-of-the-art shells and missiles fired by Israel at apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, and UN facilities — not precision-guided and therefore according to HRW incapable of distinguishing between a military and civilian target. Such gunners can also not hide behind the excuse that they hit an empty field or even that they successfully aimed at and struck a legitimate military target; for HRW it is the act of using yesterday’s weapon rather than its impact that defines the crime. (There is, parenthetically, no record of HRW condemning Israel or the US of committing war crimes by virtue of using unguided projectiles).

Asked about this rather bizarre state of affairs, every current and former HRW staff member spoken to over many years — most of them in rather senior positions – point at least two fingers at HRW director Kenneth Roth’s affinity for Israel. At least as important, apparently, is Roth’s exceptional ability to divine the political wind, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that HRW retains the resources and credentials to remain the industry leader. It is that rare case where principle and opportunism merge rather than collide. (While Roth undoubtedly has allies on the organisation’s board and among its staff for his approach to the question of Israel, these are easily outnumbered by critics who would like to see a more uniform standard applied by their organisation).

Thus, in a 2006 missive to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the eve of her Mideast sojourn at the height of Israel’s US-sponsored onslaught on Lebanon Roth, in perhaps the outstanding act of political courage during the Bush years, insisted on drawing her attention to the war crimes being perpetrated in the conflict — by Hizballah. According to several senior HRW employees, Roth subsequently tried to arrange for a critic who questioned HRW’s partisanship to be fired by filing a written complaint to the critic’s director.

As a case study of HRW’s response to the question of Israel, its publications during the recent Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip – all of which were consulted on on 25 January 2009 — only confirm the pattern discussed above, and in some respects go beyond it as well.

True to form, HRW’s first pronouncement on the conflict, issued on 30 December 2008 and entitled “Israel: Artillery Poses Risk to Gaza Civilians”, despite its brevity meticulously documents relevant Israeli practice and the cost it has exacted in Palestininian life and limb. That said, there is no condemnation to be found. “In assessing the legality of the IDF’s artillery fire under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war”, it politely concludes, “it is necessary to determine for each attack whether it was targeted at a specific military objective; whether the weapon used could be aimed with sufficient accuracy to differentiate between the military objective and civilians; and whether the anticipated civilian casualties were not disproportionate to the expected military gain from the attack”.

Turning next to a subject entirely unrelated to the publication’s title — namely Palestinian rocket attacks — the arcane technical analysis suddenly comes to a screeching halt. Rather than ‘if on the one hand, but then on the other’, we read the following: “Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned the launching of rockets at population centers in Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. The rockets are highly inaccurate, and those launching them cannot accurately target military objects. Deliberately firing indiscriminate weapons into civilian-populated areas, as a matter of policy, constitutes a war crime”.

For good measure HRW that same day released “Israel/Hamas: Civilians Must Not be Targets”. On the one hand, “Human Rights Watch investigated three Israeli attacks that raise particular concern about Israel’s targeting decisions and require independent and impartial inquiries to determine whether the attacks violated the laws of war. In three incidents detailed below, 18 civilians died, among them at least seven children”. Indeed, “Some other Israeli targets may have also been unlawful under the laws of war”.

Yet, on the other hand, “Human Rights Watch has long criticized Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians – most recently, in a public letter to Hamas on November 20 ( The rockets are highly inaccurate, and those launching them cannot accurately target military objects. Deliberately firing indiscriminate weapons into civilian populated areas, as a matter of policy, constitutes a war crime”.

Nevertheless by the following day, in the lengthy “Q&A: Hostilities between Israel and Hamas” Hamas leaders were no longer being led to a war crimes tribunal in HRW chains. Confronted with evidence too overwhelming to ignore that Israel was deliberately firing much greater quantities of precision-guided weapons not only into civilian-populated areas, but directly at the civilian population and to much greater effect, HRW was confronted with a stark choice: accuse Israel of war crimes, or change Hamas’s rap sheet. It prudently opted for the latter, accusing Israel only of “indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war”.

For the rest of the conflict, Hamas was able to “deliberately fire indiscriminate weapons into civilian populated areas, as a matter of policy”, with total impunity, not once being denounced by HRW for committing war crimes. Too clever by half, Roth apparently believed no one would notice this sudden about-face.

As the devastation of the Gaza Strip continued apace, and the death toll reached horrific levels, it was becoming increasingly clear that civilians were very much in Israel’s crosshairs. In an orgy of organized savagery entire families were obliterated with the press of a button; refugees were herded into buildings, the premises shelled, and survivors denied medical care and essential supplies for days afterward; UN facilities, including the UNRWA headquarters and schools transformed into safe havens (whose precise coordinates and functions were communicated to the Israeli military) were repeatedly bombed; women and children seeking refuge with white flags raised were summarily gunned down; and entire neighborhoods were systematically razed to the ground. Yet, from HRW’s perspective, none of these acts — whether individually or collectively — merited the same characterization that had until 30 December 2008 been routinely meted out to their Palestinian adversaries.

As part of its response, the organization simply feigned ignorance. “Israel’s refusal to grant access to Gaza for all international media and human rights monitors since the fighting began on December 27″, it complained on 12 January, “has limited severely the flow of information and investigation from impartial observers into events on the ground”. “Human Rights Watch,” it had the cheek to report on 16 January, “is unable to conduct full investigations into alleged laws of war violations by either side because of Israel’s continuing denial of access to Gaza”. This despite the fact that the Gaza Strip was saturated with Arab journalists, local and international humanitarian staff, medical personnel including several Europeans, and approximately 1.5 million residents most of whom had at least intermittent access to telecommunications. Yet none of these, apparently, met the criteria of credible witness. Indeed, HRW’s main and almost exclusive source of reliable information consisted of staff located on the Israeli side of the boundary on account of Israel and Egypt’s ban on entry to the Gaza Strip.

HRW’s insistence on the most scrupulous standards of quality control for information emanating from the Gaza Strip, while in principle laudable, stands in rather sharp contrast to its operations in Ba’thist Iraq, where much more severe restrictions didn’t preclude the organization from concocting stories about babies thrown out of incubators and issuing detailed accounts of genocide. Similarly, even during the Gaza conflict HRW had no problem lending its imprimatur to reports of state repression of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia — countries in which it was also denied access. “Gaza Crisis: Regimes React with Routine Repression”, issued on 21 January, didn’t hesitate to assert as fact various beatings and arrests in the darker parts of the Middle East, using precisely those forensic methods deemed insufficiently impartial in the Gaza Strip. Nor did denial of access prevent HRW from denouncing such regimes for throwing not one but two shoes at their people — a wholly appropriate turn of phrase but also the type of rhetoric one never sees deployed when addressing the question of Israel.

At several points HRW’s coverage of the conflict descended to the level of obscenity. On 16 January, in a press release entitled “Israel: Stop Shelling Crowded Gaza City”, the organization once again provides an accurate account, based primarily on the testimony of HRW senior military analyst Marc Garlasco, of the facts — in this case Israel’s use of heavy artillery against the centre of Gaza City, including the shelling of UNRWA headquarters with white phosphorous. Yet rather than conclude that a war crime had been perpetrated, or even suggest that the time may be ripe for investigation and accountability, the microphone is handed to Israel’s Prime Minister: “Ehud Olmert apologized for the attack, but said Israeli forces had come under fire from the UN compound. ‘It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologize for it’, he said”.

Curiously, UNRWA officials, who are quoted elsewhere in the press release describing the attack, are not cited as “categorically rul[ing] out any possibility that militants had been firing from the compound,” as they had to the Associated Press and other media. Nor is the lay reader informed about the legality of the attack even if Olmert’s version of events was substantiated, or of the consequences in terms of accountability even if he was genuinely saddened and apologetic. Indeed, the only reference to an investigation is to the one HRW was purportedly unable to conduct.

Further down the same press release reports: “Israeli fire also hit the al-Shurouq tower, which houses media outlets such as Reuters, al-Arabiyya Television, and al-Hayat newspaper, causing substantial damage and wounding at least two journalists … Media organizations had provided the Israeli military with the GPS locations of all their offices. Israeli forces told the media that they had come under fire from the building”. Seemingly, the recently pardoned war criminals of Hamas successfully transformed the building into the headquarters of their rocket battalion without even being noticed by the dozens of journalists and their dozens of cameras in, on and around the building – though a more likely explanation is that the journalists, all of them Arab, fail to meet Roth’s standards for “impartial observers into events on the ground”.

The press release then states, “”Human Rights Watch is unable to conduct full investigations into alleged laws of war violations by either side because of Israel’s continuing denial of access to Gaza. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have also violated the laws of war by continuing to fire unguided Qassam and Grad rockets at population centers in Israel.” Once again, HRW insists on having it both ways: If violations can only be alleged pending confirmation by exhaustive investigations in situ, how can a mere reference to the type of weapon used by one party prove sufficient for finding that it has in fact committed such violations? By the time the reader gets to the final paragraph of the press release, a recommendation to Israel to “Collect and analyze data regarding Palestinian civilian casualties from artillery shelling in order to assess the harm to civilians caused by the use of artillery in particular locales and situations, and thus to base targeting decisions on a proper weighing of foreseeable civilian harm”, the reader could be forgiven for reading this as an exhortation for further Israeli shelling to ensure sufficient data is collected.

The low point of HRW’s coverage of Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip was not its consistent refusal to apply a single standard — whether legal or rhetorical — to Israel and the Palestinians, nor its effective contribution to Israeli impunity, but rather a personal betrayal of an HRW colleague in his hour of greatest need.

“On the afternoon of January 3, 2009″, according to HRW’s “Israel: Investigate Former Judge’s Killing in Gaza” (issued on 9 January), “an Israeli bomb or missile from an F-16 jet fighter killed the two Gazans at the al-Ghoul farm, northwest of Beit Lahiya and close to Gaza’s border with Israel. Akram al-Ghoul was a judge who worked in the Palestinian Authority courts and resigned after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. He is the father of Fares Akram, Human Rights Watch’s research consultant in Gaza. Mahmoud al-Ghoul, 17, was a student”.

One aspect of the question of Israel on which HRW has pulled considerably fewer punches than others concerns internal investigations conducted by the Israeli military. Only two days before it issued the above press release, in fact, in a separate press release entitled “Gaza: Israeli Attack on School Needs Full Investigation”, the organization noted that according to its previous studies of the matter, “IDF investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations, when they have occurred, have been deeply flawed … To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, Israel never conducted impartial and thorough investigations of those [previously recounted] incidents or held any of its military personnel accountable. During Israel’s last major ground offensive in Gaza in March 2008, Human Rights Watch found that Israeli forces committed several targeted killings and other serious violations of the laws of war. To date, no IDF investigation has taken place in these cases”.

Yet how did Kenneth Roth and the world’s leading human rights organization respond to the killing of their colleague’s father and relative? “Human Rights Watch today called on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the deaths by an Israeli airstrike of Akram al-Ghoul, 48, and Mahmoud Salah Ahman al-Ghoul, 17, the father and cousin of Human Rights Watch’s research consultant in Gaza. In a letter to Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, IDF Military Advocate General, Human Rights Watch urged the military to investigate the attack, make the results of the investigation public, and prosecute any persons it finds to have acted in serious violation of international humanitarian law”. HRW didn’t even bother to go through the motions of calling for an “independent” investigation of the killing of their Arab informant’s father.

In doing so, HRW chose to pursue justice for a colleague by steering his case into what they better than perhaps any others know to be meaningless dead end. The impression that the murder of Fares Akram’s father was instrumentalised by HRW to lend a much-needed veneer of respectability to the Israeli military’s investigations of itself is particularly reprehensible.

Mouin Rabbani is a Contributing Editor to Middle East Report

Who Profits from the Israeli Occupation?

Now, more then ever, Israeli activists need a powerful global movement to help us build a just peace in Israel/ Palestine. Looking for effective tools for ending the occupation, we have launched a new website listing companies directly involved in the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. The grassroots initiative, of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, includes a database and an information center, and reflects an on-going two-year effort, rigorous research, documentation and site visits.

This unprecedented on-line resource already lists about 200 companies, and hundreds more will be added during 2009, offering an extensive and intricate mapping of the corporate aspects and interests in the continued occupation. The website offers a new useful categorization of all corporate interests in the occupation, and exposes specific examples of direct involvement of many international and Israeli companies for the first time. In tracing ownership links it shows in detail how some of Israel’s largest corporations are tied in with the occupation.

The database allows for advanced searches, such as: Which U.S. corporations support the West Bank military checkpoints? Which of the companies are listed in the London stock-exchange? What settlements’ production is formally registered inside Israel? Note, however, that the on-line data is always partial, always growing, and please send us any relevant information, further requests for information or suggestions.

As Israeli activists, we feel obligated to try and educate ourselves and others about the economic incentives and corporate involvement in the occupation, but this is not enough. You can support our efforts by continuing this investigation in your own country, by informing others of our website, or by sending us a much needed donation.

Judeo-Nazis demand pound of flesh from Erdogan

By Soner Cagaptay

Turkey is a special Muslim country. Of the more than 50 majority-Muslim nations, it is the only one that is a NATO ally, is in accession talks with the European Union, is a liberal democracy and has normal relations with Israel. Under its current government by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, Turkey is losing these special qualities. Liberal political trends are disappearing, E.U. accession talks have stalled, ties with anti-Western states such as Iran are improving and relations with Israel are deteriorating. On Thursday, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel at Davos, Switzerland, after chiding Israeli President Shimon Peres for “killing people.” If Turkey fails in these areas or wavers in its commitment to transatlantic structures such as NATO, it cannot expect to be President Obama’s favorite Muslim country.

Consider the domestic situation in Turkey and its effect on relations with the European Union. Although Turkey started accession talks, that train has come to a halt. French objections to Turkish membership slowed the process, but the impact of the AKP’s slide from liberal values cannot be ignored. After six years of AKP rule, the people of Turkey are less free and less equal, as various news and other reports on media freedom and gender equality show. In April 2007, for instance, the AKP passed an Internet law that has led to a ban on YouTube, making Turkey the only European country to shut down access to the popular site. On the U.N. Development Program’s gender-empowerment index, Turkey has slipped to 90th from 63rd in 2002, the year the AKP came to power, putting it behind even Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to take seriously the AKP’s claim to be a liberal party when Saudi women are considered more politically, economically and socially empowered than Turkish women.

Then there is foreign policy. Take Turkey’s status as a NATO ally of the United States: Ankara’s rapprochement with Tehran has gone so far since 2002 that it is doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of a nuclear Iran. In December, Erdogan told a Washington crowd that “countries that oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons.”

The AKP’s commitment to U.S. positions is even weaker on other issues, including Hamas. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, Erdogan questioned the validity of Israel’s U.N. seat while saying that he wants to represent Hamas on international platforms. Three days before moderate Arab allies of Washington, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, gathered on Jan. 19 in Kuwait to discuss an end to the Gaza conflict, Erdogan’s officials met with Iran, Syria and Sudan in Qatar, effectively upstaging the moderates. Amazingly, Turkey is now taking a harder line on the Arab-Israeli conflict than even Saudi Arabia.

For years, Turkey has had normal relations with Israel, including strong military, tourist, and cultural and commercial ties. The Turks did not emphasize religion or ideology in their relationship with the Jewish state, so Israelis felt comfortable visiting, doing business and vacationing in Turkey. But Erdogan’s recent anti-Israeli statements — he even suggested that God would punish Israel — have made normal relations a thing of the past. On Jan. 4, 200,000 Turks turned out in freezing rain in Istanbul to wish death to Israel; on Jan. 7, an Israeli girls’ volleyball team was attacked by a Turkish audience chanting, “Muslim policemen, bring us the Jews, so we can slaughter them.”

Emerging anti-Semitism also challenges Turkey’s special status. Anti-Semitism is not hard-wired into Turkish society — rather its seeds are being spread by the political leadership. Erdogan has pumped up such sentiments by suggesting Jewish culpability for the conflict in Gaza and alleging that Jewish-controlled media outlets were misrepresenting the facts. Moreover, on Jan. 6, while demanding remorse for Israel’s Gaza operations, Erdogan said to Turkish Jews, “Did we not accept you in the Ottoman Empire?” Turkey’s tiny, well-integrated Jewish community is being threatened: Jewish businesses are being boycotted, and instances of violence have been reported. These are shameful developments in a land that has provided a home for Jews since 1492, when the Ottomans opened their arms to Jewish people fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Ottoman sultans must be spinning in their graves.

The erosion of Turkey’s liberalism under the AKP is alienating Turkey from the West. If Turkish foreign policy is based on solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes, Ankara cannot hope to be considered a serious NATO ally. Likewise, if the AKP discriminates against women, forgoes normal relations with Israel, curbs media freedoms or loses interest in joining Europe, it will hardly endear itself to the United States. And if Erdogan’s AKP keeps serving a menu of illiberalism at home and religion in foreign policy, Turkey will no longer be special — and that would be unfortunate.

Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of “Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk?”

Allan Nairn on Promoting Real Democracy

By Allan

In urban areas with street crime the idealized figure of the honest cop has long been deeply popular, especially among children.

Asked what he wants to be, a young boy in a poor household cries out, eagerly, “Polisi!,” and, on getting his ear twisted by an angry mother, amends, “Allright, I’ll be a doctor!”

Actually, his chances of rising to doctorhood are slim — no spare money, no free education — but they may be greater than those of his becoming an honest cop, since that’s a species that, in this community, only seems to exist on cartoon TV.

The police almost never enter the alley (which happens to be in Indonesia) except via proxy cop-protected drug hoodlums, but poor adults with real, off-screen, experience know that to see a police officer is to tense up and then brace for a shakedown (or beating), even if you’re feeling idealistic and furious enough to walk into a station to report a crime. (The practice of demanding a bribe from someone trying to report a crime sets up an infinity paradox, since the demand is itself a crime, and to report that one you’d have to pay again…)

At one of the main traffic roundabouts there’s an enormous full-color poster of three top uniformed commanders, in medals, posing sternly under the slogan “Honesty”! It commemorates World Anti-Corruption Day and is directly across the street from a huge new bright-blue brothel that’s advertised, in part, as a hotel, but if you walk in and ask about a hotel room, they laugh, and can’t stop laughing.

This facility is on the former turf of the legendary crime lord, Olo, who went down in a power struggle with the old district police chief, Sutanto, who later became the national police commander under the president, Gen. Susilo, who ran for and won office on a platform of anti-corruption.

The other big posters are for April elections, the largest of them being for two mass-murdering, US-protege generals (Prabowo and Wiranto, Adm. Dennis Blair’s old associate [See News and Comment postings of Jan. 6, 9, and 22, 2009, as well as Dec. 7, 2007]), and — perhaps with the male electorate in mind — for several parliamentary candidates who also happen to be beautiful women.

Elections would be one thing if you could vote consequentially against official murder, against withholding food from the starving, and against things like police-as-criminals. But elections become something else if you can’t cast such big choice votes. In such typical cases, elections become diversions of popular hope and energy that end up legitimating and reinforcing unjust orders rather than reforming them.

But even if you get a rare chance to vote on basics, or on sensitive power issues, watch out if you’re invadable, since if you vote wrong, there could be trouble.

Condoleeza Rice pushed for the ’06 Gaza / West Bank election that Hamas surprised her by winning, and which was acknowledged by President Bush as valid, before he OK’d punishment (see footnote).

On Bloomberg TV this week, from Davos, George Soros, when asked about plunging oil prices, said that the drop was unfortunate in that it’s, for example, hurting Dubai property, but on the other hand “however it’s not all bad news because the main oil producing countries have been the enemies of the prevailing world order” and the price drop is now hurting them, specifically Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, where, Soros said “It’s not so easy to finance a Bolivarian revolution with $40 oil.”

Soros, anticipating further good news regarding Hugo Chavez, said “probably his days are numbered” — and estimated that Chavez would last less than a year, which means that according to the world’s top “democracy-promotion” funder, Venezuela’s freely elected president (whose legal term is due to last 4 more years) should perhaps start looking out his window, looking not for voters, but tanks (“For the Record,” Bloomberg TV, aired Jan. 30, 2009).

More fundamentallly, one might wish to hope that a major US left-liberal like Soros might also want to consider himself to be an ” enem[y] of the prevailing world order,” a world order in which, as a text scroll from Davos noted: “More than 24,000 people die of hunger every day” (CNN International, January 30, ’09, during an interview with the Oxfam executive director). But that would be a poorly informed hope, at least regarding billionaires (who could each personally feed those 24,000 people, instead of choosing not to), and also regarding most anyone in the current top US leadership and funding strata.

But, given free will, it is indeed possible for them, and especially, less-rich people, to say ‘Enough!’

If something kills innocent people en masse, it deserves to have enemies.

If a rich-world figure says they’re pro-democracy, start off by asking them this: How would they feel about running the UN Security Council based on direct world popular vote, instead of nuclear weapons (vetoes are now held by the Permanent Five, the immediate-post-WWII nuclear powers), and the same with the world distribution of wealth and key questions of murder law enforcement?

That’s not to suggest democracy as cure-all. Rule by the people is largely myth. Except possibly in small (non-family) groups, strong people will tend to dominate — the questions are under what constraints; don’t pretend everyone’s in charge.

But the point here is merely that when today’s rich leaders talk democracy, or just talk elections, they usually don’t mean it if that raises the specter of a world with less-insanely-skewed wealth or power, or of a world where honest cops run around in life — and not just on cartoon TV, arresting any evildoer who has wrongly caused, or permitted, people’s deaths.


Bush said, for what it’s worth as testament to pre-punishment homage to democracy:

“[T]he Palestinians had an election yesterday, the results of which remind me about the power of democracy. You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls, they — and if they’re unhappy with the status quo, they’ll let you know. That’s the great thing about democracy: It provides a look into society. And yesterday, the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls. And that’s positive. What was also positive is that it’s a wakeup call to the leadership. Obviously, [Palestinian] people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care. And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories. I like the competition of ideas. I like people that have to go out and say, ‘Vote for me and here’s what I’m going to do.’ There’s something healthy about a system that does that. And so the elections yesterday were very interesting” (“President Bush Holds a White House Press Conference,” transcript, The Washington Post, January 26, 2006).

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Society for the Revival of Satan-Worship Cancels Turkish Holiday

By Irit Rosenblum and Zohar Blumenkrantz, Haaretz Correspondent

Israeli tourism to Turkey took a nosedive after Thursday’s incident at the Davos World Economic Conference, where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage after verbally sparring with President Shimon Peres over last month’s fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Tourism officials are reporting massive cancelations of Turkish vacations booked for the Pesach holiday period and for this summer.

Turkey is the single most popular foreign destination for Israeli tourists, representing 13% of all departures and generating an estimated $300 million in annual revenues. About 70% of these travelers head for the resorts of Antalya. Many of the tourism packages are booked through Israeli workplaces. Israel Airports Authority figures put Turkey as Israelis’ second-favorite destination for 2008 after the United States, with well over half a million taking the short hop to beaches and cheap shopping.

“We have suspended all the negotiations we had been conducting with hotels for the upcoming spring and summer in Turkey, until we feel that it is comfortable and safe there and that we are wanted in that country. Travelers are being diverted to Greece and Cyprus,” Arkia Israel Airlines CEO Gad Tepper said this weekend. “Workers’ committees at companies and large public institutions are canceling their activities in Turkey, and we have cut our flights to Antalya to a minimum,” Tepper added.

Eyal Kashdan, CEO of the Flying Carpet travel agency, said reservations are down by 50% on last January.

Ronen Karso of Issta Travel Lines said the workers’ committee of the Israel Electric Corporation informed the company that they will not be booking trips to Turkey this year, adding that other unions have done likewise.

Yossi Fattal, head of the Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association, said that the travelers’ boycott is unprecedented in Israel. He believes, however, that the impact will not be as severe as it would now appear. “The Israeli memory isn’t very long – half a year is like an ice age and the memory will fade.”

Postcard to Kenneth Roth

By WiZaNe

Bringing democracy to the Arab world.


It’s no secret that several Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials in the West Bank would have liked to see Operation Cast Lead end with the removal of Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip.

Of course, these officials are still not prepared to go on the record to express their displeasure over the failure of the IDF offensive to get rid of the Hamas regime. However, in private conversations over the past few days, many of them voiced “deep disappointment” over the fact that Israel ended the war without having totally crushed Hamas.

One of these officials, a close associate of Mahmoud Abbas’s, went as far as saying in a closed meeting that Israel made a “big mistake” by not finishing the job and keeping Hamas in power.

While Operation Cast Lead may have caused heavy damage to Hamas’s military capabilities, it has also left the PA leadership in the West Bank in a state of bewilderment and insecurity. Alarmed by the increased sympathy for Hamas in the aftermath of the war, Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad, have instructed their various security forces to step up their crackdown on the Islamic movement in the West Bank.

In the past three weeks, more than 135 Hamas supporters and members have been rounded up. Among the detainees are journalists, university professors and students and preachers. In some cases, Hamas supporters who were released by the IDF were arrested hours later by the PA security forces.

The crackdown has also included intimidation of reporters and critics. Several Palestinian reporters have been “advised” by Abbas’s top aides not to report on the massive anti-Hamas crackdown. Samir Khawireh, a journalist from Nablus, found himself in a prison cell earlier this week for reporting about the torching of a car belonging to Prof. Abdel Sattar Kassam, a long-time outspoken critic of financial corruption in the PA.

Kassam has blamed Fatah militiamen of being behind the torching of his car. A Fatah leaflet distributed in the city later took credit for the attack. Kassam was recently arrested by PA policemen in Nablus on charges of “incitement” against the PA leadership.

Another reporter, Khaled Amayreh of Hebron, was arrested for 55 hours by PA security agents shortly after he appeared on a TV talk show where he allegedly expressed sympathy with Hamas.

In the past two weeks, the PA leadership organized two pro-Abbas rallies, one in Ramallah and the second in Jenin, in what was seen by many Palestinians as a desperate attempt to show the world that the PA continues to enjoy the backing of the “street.”

But journalists were quick to point out that most of the demonstrators were, in fact, civil servants or members of the security forces dressed in civilian clothes. As one journalist explained, “These organized demonstrations remind us of the rallies that were held by [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein and other Arab dictators.”

ACCORDING TO a number of top Fatah operatives in the West Bank, the latest clampdown is the result of growing pressure from the United States and Israel on the PA leadership. Scenes of policemen beating demonstrators and journalists on the streets of Ramallah and Tulkarm are causing heavy damage to the PA leadership’s credibility, they argue.

“We are now being branded traitors in the Arab world,” a Fatah legislator complained this week. “The Americans and Israelis are pushing us to commit suicide.”

Indeed, many Arabs and Muslims appear to believe allegations by Hamas about the PA leadership’s purported involvement in the war. The Arab media is still full of reports suggesting that Israel launched the operation in coordination with Abbas’s men, who allegedly also chose targets that were attacked by the IDF.

ON THE streets of Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jenin, it was not hard this week to find “ordinary” Palestinians who felt that the sole purpose of the war was to bring Abbas and Fatah back to the Gaza Strip. But the majority of these people is afraid to express its views in public, so as not to be targeted by the much-feared Preventative Security Service or the General Intelligence Apparatus.

Such is the degree of this fear that a veteran Fatah operative has stopped talking to the media, since being threatened that his salary would be cut off. The operative, who works as an “adviser” to Fayad’s government, said he received “warnings” from PA security commanders and government officials that he would lose his salary if he continued to publicly demand reforms and democracy.

“Abbas and Fayad are very nervous,” the Fatah official said. “There is no doubt that they are the biggest losers of this war, because they have been discredited among their own people.”

IN A bid to contain, or at least minimize, the damage, the PA leadership has gone on the offensive by launching a propaganda campaign aimed at undermining Hamas. In a series of press conferences, PA ministers and Abbas aides have accused Hamas of stealing aid convoys that were sent to Gaza. Moreover, they have accused Hamas of waging a bloody, kneecapping campaign against Fatah members in the Strip.

As part of the media offensive, Abbas this week appointed top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo as the man in charge of the Fatah-run media outlets, including TV and radio stations in the West Bank. Abed Rabbo’s main mission is to ensure that the media in general, and the Fatah-controlled news organizations in particular, are completely mobilized in favor of Abbas and Fatah.

BUT THE media campaign and tough security measures are unlikely to boost Abbas’s standing among the Palestinians. On the contrary, the harder Abbas presses, the more points Hamas scores among the Palestinians, especially those living in the West Bank. The main problem is that many Palestinians don’t see Abbas and Fatah as a better alternative to Hamas, largely because of their failure to reform and their open alliance with Israel and the US.

With unprecedented collaboration from the Allies, Polish Polizei move to seal all holes in Warsaw Ghetto fence.

CAIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Cameras and sensors are being installed to block smuggling of arms through tunnels into Gaza, Egyptian officials say.

The sensors will pick up both digging and construction, an official told The Jerusalem Post.

“They started being installed two days ago,” the official said. “We are installing them with the help of American, French and German experts.”

Israeli experts say many of the tunnels were destroyed during three weeks of bombing and a ground invasion of Gaza. But they believe some survived and others are being repaired.

Meanwhile, a ship, the Monechgorsk, allegedly carrying arms and explosives to Hamas in Gaza was being held in Cyprus. The Cypriot Navy intercepted the vessel Thursday and escorted it to anchor off Limassol.

The United States first raised questions about the Monechgorsk after finding munitions during a search in the Gulf of Aden.

Military officials in Cyprus said a first search turned up hundreds of tons of explosives, the Cyprus Mail reported. Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said a second search will determine whether the load violates U.N. resolutions.

“The Jewish people lives”

By Amira Hass

GAZA – “Only aerial photographs of the Gaza Strip will make it possible to show and to comprehend the extent of the destruction,” a number of Western civilians said this week. They added: “But there isn’t a chance that Israel will allow anyone to come with a light plane and do aerial photography.”

The talk of aerial photography reveals the frustration felt by everyone who has managed to come here. The frustration derives from the conclusion that the real dimensions of the Israeli attack on Gaza are not being fully comprehended in the West and in Israel. They go beyond the physical destruction, beyond the numbers of the dead and the wounded, beyond the deadly encounter between a bomb dropped from an F-16 and the hollow concrete and gravel house in the Yibneh refugee camp in Rafah. Three siblings aged 4 to 12 were killed there. Parents and two sisters were injured. The mother – who was nursing her infant daughter and heard and saw the bomb rushing towards them – is in a state of shock. She stares out at the world from her hospital bed in Egypt, and does not speak. The physical injuries can be treated.

Volunteer doctors, architects who specialize in the rehabilitation of disaster zones, jurists whose aspirations reach into international courts for the investigation of war crimes, Red Cross teams, international human rights organization investigators with battle experience behind them, directors of government and independent development agencies, which transfer funds from development budgets to budgets for rehabilitation and rescue: All of them – not only journalists – are flooding the Strip, taking notes, taking pictures, exchanging information, documenting and carefully cataloguing what are emerging as patterns, phenomena that repeat themselves: shelling and bombing of buildings and enterprises that have no connection to the Hamas infrastructure – politically or militarily, the prevention of the evacuation of wounded, unfamiliar kinds of injuries, vandalism in homes that became Israel Defense Forces positions, destruction of agricultural areas and, above all, families – almost in their entirety – that were killed in their homes or as they tried to flee from the approaching tanks. This is the hardest work of documentation.

People have their own ways of trying to characterize their personal disaster: People whose homes or small businesses have been destroyed in the shelling and bombardments, though no one in their family was killed, say: “My damage is nothing,” as though embarrassed. This could be heard from a pharmacist and pharmaceuticals importer, whose warehouse of medications, the only on in the southern Gaza Strip, was bombarded. And nearly the same words were spoken by three brothers – a doctor, an engineer and a lecturer on biochemistry at Al Azhar University, whose family home in the eastern part of Jabalya was shelled with many different kinds of ammunition by the IDF. The house is included in the statistic of 17,000 homes that were partially destroyed, but it appears that it will be easier to raze it than to repair it.

“Tell Moshe and Kadosh from Moshav Mivtahim that the salaries they paid me for many years have been lost under the tanks of the Israel Defense Forces,” said a farmer from the area of Fukhari, east of Khan Yunis – and insisted on saying this in Hebrew. His house is a number in the statistic of about 4,000 homes that the IDF destroyed completely. In this agricultural area – “which in fact is called Kfar Shalom (Peace Village),” said some of its inhabitants, 92 houses were destroyed entirely and raked away along with their fields and groves and the livestock in them. We came there looking for an IDF position from which soldiers fired on Ibrahim Shurrab and his two sons: Kassab and Muhammad. The story of their killing has already been told in these pages. On January 16, during the daily cessation of fire, they were returning from their field to their home in Khan Yunis. One military position in a tank, at the end of the street, allowed them to keep driving. But from the second position they were shot at, from a distance of about 30 to 50 meters, as the father related. The position was in a house the inhabitants of which had fled several days earlier, together with all the people of the neighborhood. From the shooting, Kassab died on the spot. Muhammad, who was wounded in his leg, bled to death. The IDF allowed an ambulance to reach the site only about 23 hours later.

On Monday, on one of the walls of the house that became the IDF position from which soldiers shot the two brothers who died at their father’s side, we found two inscriptions in Hebrew: “The Jewish people lives” and “Kahane was right,” referring to right-wing extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Everyone we meet has a tremendous need to tell his story. In minute detail. Again and again. Adnan told how he was saved from death seven times; Kauthar related how she fled with her children as the bullets and shells shrieked overhead and Taleb, in a tired voice, told how after 12 days in which he had lost all contact, the body of his sister and the body of her son, riddled with bullets, were found in their home in Beit Lahiya. This is the sort of thing that is impossible to quantify: The unending horror, for three weeks, the worry, the impotence, the thoughts that never leave about the relative who has bled to death, a meter or a kilometer away. In Gaza today, as students are returning to school and cars are again driving along the roads, the commonplace “life is slowly going back to normal” is more hollow and false than ever.

However, a count of the dead and the wounded is possible. And it has been and is being done. There is a difference of 85 dead between the figures that have been published by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and those that have been arrived at by the two leading human rights centers in the Gaza Strip – Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. This gap, however, is not a result of an intentional inflation of the number of dead and wounded, but rather the result of a number of errors that occurred because of the heavy load: For example, in the aerial bombardment on Saturday, December 27, of the civilian police buildings in Gaza City, seven students of the nearby UNRWA vocational school were killed. All of them – inhabitants of Rafah. It is possible that they were listed twice – once as people from Rafah who were killed and once as people killed in Gaza City. There were people who were taken to Shifa Hospital who when they died were transferred to hospitals in the places where they had lived. It has happened that by mistake a number of names were listed twice. Sometimes there is an error in the name, which is later corrected. Sometimes neither a corpse nor remains have been located. In this way, the body of H., an Iz al-Din al-Qassam member, was lost. Only his shoes, which were found, confirmed that he had been killed. Four members of the Haddad family, parents and two children, got into a car and fled the army that was approaching the Tel al Hawwa neighborhood. A shell incinerated the car. The neighbors were able to identify the four scorched corpses only by the license number of the car, and they reported this to an investigator from the Palestinian Center. Nor is anyone able to intentionally lessen the number of Palestinian fighters who were killed. Every family is proud to say that its son fought and was killed in battle, so that sometimes the error could be the other way around: that someone is called a fighter because a certain organization adopted him, but in fact he was killed in his home and did not even know how to fire a rifle. Investigators who are very familiar with the field have their own ways of knowing who was an armed fighter and who was not. When on January 14 there was a report of four corpses in Shokka, east of Rafah, the field worker from the Palestinian Center knew the name of one of the dead and knew that he was from Iz al-Din al-Qassam. He concluded that two of the others, who were his age, were also in the military organization. However, the fourth man was 42 years old when he was killed, which is not so congruent with the profile of a “fighter,” and inquiries to his family confirmed that indeed he had no connection to the armed group.

In the two human rights organizations the confirmation of the names of those killed, their identity, their age and their sex is carried out in a number of ways: In real time, each of the organizations had field workers present at the hospitals. They saw the bodies and spoke with family members. Other investigators did everything in their power – in conditions of mortal danger and running between the bombardments – to get to the place where people were killed and wounded. If not there – then to the home of the family or the wake house. If this was not possible during the course of events – it is being done now. Each investigator has a detailed questionnaire that he goes over with all the affected families and in which all the details are recorded. The work of getting everything down in writing will take at least a month and a half or two months. Then in all likelihood the slight gaps in the figures of the two human rights centers will be corrected.

The data, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, as of January 22, are as follows: 1,285 dead, of whom 1,062 were non-combatants (895 civilians and 167 civilian police). Of these, 281 were children (21.8 percent) and 111 were women. There are 4,336 wounded, among them 1,133 children. The 6-year-old girl who we saw in the Zeytun neighborhood, who holds her hands up in the air in fear every time the photographer brings his camera near her, is not included in the list of the casualties.

“Occupations are currently ongoing at London’s Queen Mary College and King’s College and have spread across the country to campuses in, Cambridge, Oxford, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Coventry and Manchester.”


For the latest on UK campus occupations:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Doctors from the United States who rushed to the Gaza Strip to help the war wounded quickly learned that their challenge went beyond treating shrapnel injuries.

The eight American specialists found themselves operating on patients who had fallen victim to the 20-month-border closure that had crippled Gaza’s health care system even before Israel’s offensive against Hamas.

On Tuesday, the team removed a kidney tumor the size of a honey melon from a 4-year-old boy, Abdullah Shawwa, in a five-hour emergency surgery at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.

The tumor was advanced and without quick intervention Abdullah would likely have died, said Dr. Ismail Mehr, an anesthesiologist from Hornell, N.Y. Doctors in Gaza didn’t have the expertise to operate on him and Abdullah’s father had been unable to get him transferred quickly to Israel or Egypt.

Even after the surgery, Abdullah’s prognosis is uncertain. He’ll need followup treatment, including advanced chemotherapy or radiation, which are not available in Gaza. But it’s been difficult for Gaza patients to get out, ever since Israel and Egypt closed the borders in response to the violent Hamas takeover of the territory in June 2007.

The closure also dealt a further blow to Gaza’s underdeveloped health care system, which lacks sophisticated equipment and key specialists. Hospitals often operate on generators because of disrupted power supplies, and spare parts for some machines are unavailable.

On the eve of the war, Gaza’s hospitals had run out of 250 of the basic 1,000 health care items, and were short on 105 of 480 essential drugs, including some cancer medications and anesthetics, said Mahmoud Daher, a representative of the World Health Organization.

In this vulnerable condition, disaster struck. On Dec. 27, the first day of the war, Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas security compounds across Gaza, killing about 220 people, most of them Hamas police, and wounding some 300 people, according to Health Ministry officials.

Shifa, Gaza’s central hospital, was overwhelmed.

Its six operating theaters couldn’t cope with the waves of seriously wounded. Staff nurse Jihad Ashkar, a 22-year veteran at Shifa, said he had never before seen so many people with multiple injuries that required hours-long surgeries.

“The injured people waited for many hours to enter the theater, so we lost many injured people because we haven’t the equipment or operating rooms,” said Ashkar.

More than 1,280 Gazans were killed in the three-week offensive, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. More than 4,000 people were hurt, including about 500 critically. The 600 most difficult cases were allowed passage to Egypt.

But the war has also changed the lives of those with lighter injuries. Policeman Sabri Elawa, 25, said he was the only one in his 60-member unit to survive the initial bombing raid. Hit by shrapnel in the right leg, he limps and moves with a walker.

On Monday, he stood in an unruly line at Shifa for several hours, waiting to pick up a proof-of-injury document. With paper in hand, he went to two charities in a failed search for the office that would pay the 500 euros promised to each wounded person by the Hamas government.

Two of his relatives, Maisa and Sami Elawa, accompanied him, seeking emergency payment for their 3-year-old son, Zaher, who suffered a broken hip and burns on the face and chest in a shelling attack near their home.

The couple has no income, except for handouts from relatives. They said they can’t afford the medication for Zaher, who was lying on a sofa in the modest living room Monday, alternating between crying and smiling. “He cried for a whole week,” Maisa, 22, said of her son.

She said she’s not sure the relief money will ever materialize. “All of them have forgotten us. We are the victims and every government just looks for their” jobs, she said.

With many of the wounded either sent home or to hospitals abroad, Shifa has largely settled into its prewar routine.

Some of the exhausted Palestinian doctors have been given relief by foreign medical teams that have arrived in Gaza since a cease-fire took hold Jan. 18. Doctors Without Borders set up a white tent clinic on an empty lot in downtown Gaza City and Jordanian specialists are to stay for several months, operating a 44-bed field hospital.

The eight Americans, including a plastic surgeon and a radiologist, performed more than 15 procedures since arriving Sunday, including skin grafts and cancer surgery. The group, which also carried cartons of medical equipment, is to stay through Friday.

Dr. Saeed Akther, a Pakistan-based urologist originally from Lubbock, Texas, performed the surgery on Abdullah, the 4-year-old with the kidney tumor. Palestinian doctors crowded around to watch, one even bringing a portable step so he could peek over the heads of the others.

“The (local) surgeons could not have done it here,” said Mehr. “I am not knocking their ability. You could tell when we were doing it, they had lots of questions. They just would not have been able to handle a tumor this size.”

Abdullah’s father, Mussalam, a butcher in Gaza City’s outdoor market, said the boy was diagnosed only a month ago, after his belly kept swelling. He said his request for treatment outside Gaza was still hung up in bureaucracy when the foreign doctors arrived.

For followup treatment, Abdullah would have to go to Israel. Even during the 20-month closure, Israel has permitted several hundred patients a month — some 900 at its peak — to reach Israeli hospitals for treatment not available in Gaza.

Each trip across the heavily fortified Erez crossing into Israel requires a complicated series of permits from officials in Gaza, the West Bank and finally Israel’s Shin Bet security service.

In recent months, the number of rejections on security grounds has increased, said Miri Weingarten, of the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which helps Gaza patients.

She said about 1,000 referrals a month are needed, but that in the period before the war, only about half that number were reaching Israel.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said Gaza’s Hamas rulers are responsible for any hardship in Gaza but that Israel has gone out of its way to ensure ongoing medical care.

“Israel has answered every request made by the Red Cross, the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations, regarding health care in Gaza,” he said, adding that “any claims that Israeli policy is harming the health care system in Gaza are false, completely untrue.”

However, international aid groups say the pre-war trickle of aid shipments is not sufficient to deal with Gaza’s growing humanitarian crisis. Rebuilding homes, factories and several health care centers is estimated to cost about $2 billion. Many of the wounded will need rehabiliation.

The American doctors were careful to stay away from politics — the lifting of the closure is linked to complex negotiations between Israel, Hamas, Egypt and others.

But Dr. Ahmed Colwell, an emergency room physician from Sioux City, Iowa, said at least the sick should be given relief.

“It’s inhumane … to not allow them to even have basic medical care,” he said.