Occupied: Headlines From Palestine

Blogging From Gaza, Palestine

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Israeli Occupation Forces Fire At Farmers And Fishermen In Central Gaza

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli forces opened fire at Palestinian farmers tending their fields in central Gaza on Thursday as navy gunboats fired at Palestinian fishermen off the coast, witnesses said.Israeli soldiers stationed in watchtowers along the Gaza border opened fire east of Deir al-Balah on agricultural fields, witnesses said, with no injuries reported.

Israeli naval forces opened fire at fishermen off the coast of Deir al-Balah, damaging a fishing boat.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was looking into the reports.

Palestinian fishermen face near daily fire from Israeli forces, with Gaza-based watchdog the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reporting 29 attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian fisherman between Sept. 1, 2014 and March 15, 2015.Due to high frequency of such attacks, however, live fire at fishing boats often goes unreported.

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2 Children Injured By Israeli Ordnance Explosion In Gaza

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Two Palestinian children were injured as an unexploded Israeli ordnance blew up in eastern Gaza City on Wednesday.Medical sources said that two children were injured when ordnance left from the latest Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip went off in the Shujaiyyeh neighborhood in eastern Gaza City.

In September, three people were killed and two injured by unexploded ordnance in the neighborhood.
Over 7,000 unexploded ordnance were left throughout the Gaza Strip following last summer’s war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, according to officials of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories (OCHA).Although Gaza police explosives teams have been working across the territory to destroy the ordnance and prevent safety threats to locals, lack of proper equipment due to the seven-year Israeli siege as well as lack of resources more generally have hindered such efforts.

Even before the most frequent Israeli assault, unexploded ordnance from the 2008-9 and 2012 offensives was a major threat to Gazans.
A 2012 report published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 111 civilians, 64 of whom were children, were casualties to unexploded ordnance between 2009 and 2012, reaching an average of four every month in 2012.

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Israeli Occupation Armored Tanks Penetrate Gaza Border

GAZA, May 4, 2015 (WAFA) – Several Israeli armored tanks on Monday penetrated the border line with the Gaza Strip, where they went about 150 meters into the strip, amid sporadic gunfire, according to WAFA correspondent.

WAFA reporter said four armored tanks and three bulldozers penetrated the border near the town of Jabalia, just north of Gaza, and proceeded to raze land while machine gunning randomly.

There were no reports of casualties in the area.

Almost on a daily basis, Israeli army targets Palestinian residents of Gaza, whether fishermen or farmers who attempt to sail to catch fish or tend to their agricultural lands.

Despite agreements between Palestinian factions and Israel about holding off fire exchange, Israeli army continues to target fishermen sailing within the allowed fishing zone, as well as prevents farmers from accessing their land located near the borders, which were labeled as no-go “buffer” zones.

Israel’s unilaterally-impose buffer zone extends between 500 meters and 1,500 meters into the Strip, effectively turning local farms into no-go zones.

According to UNOCHA, 17% of Gaza’s total land area and 35% of its agricultural land are located within the buffer zone as of 2010, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of more than 100,000 residents of Gaza.

Israel has imposed a tightened blockade since 2007 after Hamas won the democratic legislative elections and took over power in the strip.


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Israeli Occupation Soldiers Cast Doubt On Legality Of Gaza Military Tactics

Testimonies of Israeli combatants about last year’s war show apparent disregard for safety of civilians

Testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza have raised serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians.

The claims – collected by the human rights group Breaking the Silence – are contained in dozens of interviews with Israeli combatants, as well as with soldiers who served in command centres and attack rooms, a quarter of them officers up to the rank of major.

They include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians.

In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on.

The group also claims that the Israeli military operated with different safety margins for bombing or using artillery and mortars near civilians and its own troops, with Israeli forces at times allowed to fire significantly closer to civilians than Israeli soldiers.

Phillipe Sands, a specialist in international humanitarian law, described the testimonies as “troubling insights into intention and method”.

“Maybe it will be said that they are partial and selective, but surely they cannot be ignored or brushed aside, coming as they do from individuals with first-hand experience: the rule of law requires proper investigation and inquiry.”

Describing the rules that meant life and death in Gaza during the 50-day war – a conflict in which 2,200 Palestinians were killed – the interviews shed light for the first time not only on what individual soldiers were told but on the doctrine informing the operation.

Despite the insistence of Israeli leaders that it took all necessary precautions to protect civilians, the interviews provide a very different picture. They suggest that an overarching priority was the minimisation of Israeli military casualties even at the risk of Palestinian civilians being harmed.

While the Israel Defence Forces Military Advocate General’s office has launched investigations into a number of individual incidents of alleged wrongdoing, the testimonies raise wider questions over policies under which the war was conducted.

Post-conflict briefings to soldiers suggest that the high death toll and destruction were treated as “achievements” by officers who judged the attrition would keep Gaza “quiet for five years”.

The tone, according to one sergeant, was set before the ground offensive into Gaza that began on 17 July last year in pre-combat briefings that preceded the entry of six reinforced brigades into Gaza.

“[It] took place during training at Tze’elim, before entering Gaza, with the commander of the armoured battalion to which we were assigned,” recalled a sergeant, one of dozens of Israeli soldiers who have described how the war was fought last summer in the coastal strip.

“[The commander] said: ‘We don’t take risks. We do not spare ammo. We unload, we use as much as possible.’”

“The rules of engagement [were] pretty identical,” added another sergeant who served in a mechanised infantry unit in Deir al-Balah. “Anything inside [the Gaza Strip] is a threat

The area has to be ‘sterilised,’ empty of people – and if we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming: “I give up” or something – then he’s a threat and there’s authorisation to open fire … The saying was: ‘There’s no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.’ In that situation, anyone there is involved.”

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Palestinians recover possessions from the ruins of their home during a truce in the 2014 Gaza war. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

“The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in,” recalled another soldier who served during the ground operation in Gaza City. The assumption being that the moment we went in [to the Gaza Strip], anyone who dared poke his head out was a terrorist.”

Soldiers were also encouraged to treat individuals who came too close or watched from windows or other vantage points as “scouts” who could be killed regardless of whether there was hard evidence they were spotting for Hamas or other militant groups. “If it looks like a man, shoot. It was simple: you’re in a motherfucking combat zone,” said a sergeant who served in an infantry unit in the northern Gaza strip.

“A few hours before you went in the whole area was bombed, if there’s anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot that person.” Defining ‘innocent’ he added: “If you see the person is less than 1.40 metres tall or if you see it’s a lady … If it’s a man you shoot.”

In at least one instance described by soldiers, being female did not help two women who were killed because one had a mobile phone. A soldier described the incident: “After the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies] … it was two women, over the age of 30 … unarmed. They were listed as terrorists. They were fired at. So of course they must have been terrorists.”

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A father comforts his daughter injured during an Israeli strike on the UN school at Beit Hanoun during the 2014 Gaza war. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

The testimonies raise questions whether Israel fully met its obligations to protect civilians in a conflict area from unnecessary harm, requiring it not only to distinguish between civilians and combatants but also ensure that when using force, where there is the risk of civilian harm, that it is “proportionate”.

“One of the main threads in the testimonies,” said Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer and legal adviser to Breaking the Silence, “is the presumption that despite the fact that the battle was being waged in urban area – and one of most densely populated in the world – no civilians would be in the areas they entered.”

That presumption, say soldiers, was sustained by virtue of warnings to Palestinians to leave their homes and neighbourhoods delivered in leaflets dropped by aircraft and in text and phone messages which meant – in the IDF’s interpretation – that anyone who remained was not a civilian.

Even at the time that view was deeply controversial because – says Sfard and other legal experts interviewed – it reinterpreted international law regarding the duty of protection for areas containing civilians.

Sfard added: “We are not talking about a [deliberate] decision to kill civilians. But to say the rules of engagement were lax gives them too much credit. They allowed engagement in almost any circumstances, unless there was a felt to be a risk to an IDF soldier.”

If the rules of engagement were highly permissive, other soldiers say that they also detected a darker mood in their units that further coloured the way that soldiers behaved. “The motto guiding lots of people was: ‘Let’s show them,’ recalls a lieutenant who served in the Givati Brigade in Rafah. “It was evident that was a starting point. Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards [the Palestinians].”

He added: “There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.”

A second lieutenant echoed his comments. “You could feel there was a radicalisation in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely rightwing … [And] the very fact that [Palestinians were] described as ‘uninvolved’ rather than as civilians, and the desensitisation to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side. It doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not … that’s something that troubles me.”
A group of Palestinian children and teenagers rescue possessions from a devastated area of northern Gaza during a ceasefire in last summer’s summer’s war.

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A group of Palestinian children and teenagers rescue possessions from a devastated area of northern Gaza during a ceasefire in last summer’s summer’s war. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Guardian

And the testimonies, too, suggest breaches of the IDF’s own code of ethics – The Spirit of the IDF – which insists: “IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.”

Contrary to that, however, testimonies describe how soldiers randomly shelled buildings either to no obvious military purpose or for revenge.

One sergeant who served in a tank in the centre of the Gaza Strip recalls: “A week or two after we entered the Gaza Strip and we were all firing a lot when there wasn’t any need for it – just for the sake of firing – a member of our company was killed.

“The company commander came over to us and told us that one guy was killed due to such-and-such, and he said: ‘Guys, get ready, get in your tanks, and we’ll fire a barrage in memory of our comrade” … My tank went up to the post – a place from which I can see targets – can see buildings – [and] fired at them, and the platoon commander says: ‘OK guys, we’ll now fire in memory of our comrade’ and we said OK.”

How Israeli forces used artillery and mortars in Gaza, says Breaking the Silence, has raised other concerns beyond either the rules of engagement or the actions of specific units.

According to the group’s research during the war, the Israeli military operated two different sets of rules for how close certain weapons could be fired to Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians.

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, and himself a former soldier, explains: “What our research during this project uncovered was that there were three designated ‘Operational Levels’ during the conflict – numbered one to three. What the operational level was was set higher up the chain of command. Above the level of the Gaza division. What those levels do is designate the likelihood of civilian casualties from weapons like 155mm artillery and bombs from ‘low’ damage to civilians to ‘high’.

“What we established was that for artillery fire in operational levels two and three Israeli forces were allowed to fire much closer to civilians than they were to friendly Israeli forces.”

Ahead of the conflict – in which 34,000 shells were fired into Gaza, 19,000 of them explosive – artillery and air liaison officers had been supplied with a list of sensitive sites to which fire was not to be directed within clear limits of distance. These included hospitals and UN schools being used as refugee centres, even in areas where evacuation had been ordered.

“Even then,” explains Shaul, “we have a testimony we took that a senior brigade commander issued order how to get around that, instructing that the unit fired first outside of the protected area and then calling for correction fire on to the location that they wanted to hit.

“He said: “If you go on the radio and ask to hit this building, we have to say no. But if you give a target 200 metres outside then you can ask for correction. Only thing that is recorded is the first target not the correction fire.”

And in the end, despite the high number of civilian casualties, the debriefings treated the destruction as an accomplishment that would discourage Hamas in the future.

“You could say they went over most of the things viewed as accomplishments,” said a Combat Intelligence Corps sergeant. “ “They spoke about numbers: 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful.

“They spoke of a five-year period of quiet (in which there would be no hostilities between Israel and Hamas) when in fact it was a 72-hour ceasefire, and at the end of those 72 hours they were firing again.”

Without responding to the specific allegations, the Israeli military said: “The IDF is committed to properly investigating all credible claims raised via media, NGOs, and official complaints concerning IDF conduct during operation Protective Edge, in as serious a manner as possible.

“It should be noted that following Operation Protective Edge, thorough investigations were carried out, and soldiers and commanders were given the opportunity to present any complaint. Exceptional incidents were then transferred to the military advocate general for further inquiry.”

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Israeli Occupation Navy Opens Gunfire On Fishermen Off Gaza, Damages Boats

GAZA, May 3, 2015 (WAFA) – Israeli naval boats Sunday opened heavy machine gunfire at Palestinian fishermen while sailing offshore the city of Gaza within the allowed the fishing zone, according to local sources.

WAFA correspondent said Israeli naval boats indiscriminately opened heavy machine gunfire at fishermen sailing within the unilaterally-imposed six-nautical-miles fishing zone offshore al-Sudaniya area, causing damage to several boats.

No injuries were reported among the fishermen.

Israeli naval boats routinely open fire on Palestinian fishermen sailing within the six-nautical-miles zone and farmlands along the border, flagrantly violating the ceasefire deal.

The ceasefire deal stipulated that Israel would immediately ease the blockade imposed on the strip and expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, allowing fishermen to sail as far as six nautical miles from shore, and would continue to expand the area gradually.

Israel has however failed to do so, repeatedly violating the ceasefire deal through opening fire on Palestinian fishermen within the fishing zone and reducing their intake.

Israel has imposed a tightened blockade since 2007 after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces.


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Israeli Occupation Naval Forces Open Fire At Gaza Fishing Boats

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza City early Friday, witnesses told Ma’an.
An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma’an that when a vessel deviated from the designated fishing zone, the forces told the vessel to halt and fired warning shots into the air, after which the vessel returned to shore with no injuries or damage reported.
The exact distance of the fishing boat from shore at the time of the incident was not given by witnesses or the Israeli spokeswoman.Restrictions on fishing zones off the coast of the Gaza Strip have been heavily enforced by Israeli forces as part of a blockade imposed on the strip since 2006.
Israel agreed to expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast as part of last summer’s ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, however fishermen are regularly prevented from fishing within the agreed limits.Israeli naval forces have shot and killed three fishermen in recent months.
Palestinian fishermen face near daily fire from Israeli forces, Gaza-based watchdog al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reporting 29 attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian fisherman between Sept. 1, 2014 and March 15, 2015.Due to high frequency of such attacks, however, live fire at fishing boats often goes unreported.Friday’s incident came one day after Israel returned 15 fishing boats Thursday that it seized in recent years off the blockaded coast.Fishing union chief Nizar Ayyash told AFP at the time that the return of 15 boats was welcome but demanded that Israel hand back dozens more vessels still in its possession and criticized frequent Israeli attacks on local fishermen.
“It is true this is the first time Israel has returned fishing boats… but its forces fire at fishermen before they’ve even exceeded the imposed limit, especially off southern Gaza,” he said, adding that Isreali forces are still holding over 60 boats.The blockade imposed by Israel has devastated the livelihood of the around 4,000 fishermen living in the coastal enclave.
AFP contributed to this report.

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Hamas Attacks Gaza Unity Protest

GAZA CITY (AFP) — Police in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip beat and arrested protesters on Wednesday at a youth rally in the north of the besieged coastal territory, an AFP correspondent said.More than 400 demonstrators gathered in Shujaiyeh, a neighborhood in eastern Gaza City that was razed during a July-August war between Hamas and Israel, urging reconstruction and calling for an end to intra-Palestinian division.

Plainclothes police officers entered the crowd, beating a number of protesters without causing serious injury, the AFP correspondent said.They then arrested at least seven people, according to witnesses.

The Hamas-run interior ministry said in a statement that the crowd had grown violent, forcing police to intervene “to protect the lives of those participating, after which calm prevailed”.The Gaza war, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side, has left 100,000 people homeless in the tiny coastal territory, home to 1.8 million people.Reconstruction of homes has barely begun.Hamas and their West Bank-based rivals Fatah have failed to implement a unity deal they signed in April last year.The deal was meant to hand over control of Gaza to the Western-supported Palestinian Authority, which Fatah dominates.With Hamas continuing to control Gaza, Israel has left in place its eight-year blockade, which has largely banned the import of building materials, fearing they could be used by militants to make weapons

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14-Year-Old Shot By Israeli Occupation Forces In Gaza Strip In Critical Condition

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A 14-year-old Palestinian is in critical condition and has been transferred to Ramallah for treatment after he was hit by a stray Israeli bullet on Friday at his home in the central Gaza Strip, his family said Tuesday.

The family of Fadi Abu Mandil, 14, said that the teen will undergo surgery in his spine as he is currently unable to walk.His uncle told Ma’an that the child was hit with a stray Israeli bullet while studying at his home when Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian farmers.

On Friday medical sources said that the 14-year-old from al-Mughazi refugee camp had been transferred to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah city.Israeli forces were again firing on Gazan farmers on Tuesday, damaging property and forcing farmers to flee their land, and on Sunday, they shot and injured a 37-year-old man.

Israeli forces have repeatedly opened fire on Gazans since the ceasefire agreement signed Aug. 26, 2014 that ended a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas.

In March alone, there were a total of 38 incidents of shootings, incursions into the coastal enclave, and arrests, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
That was up from 26 incidents through February, and left seven Palestinians injured and one dead.
The attacks come despite Israeli promises at the end of the ceasefire to ease restrictions on Palestinian access to both the sea and the border region near the “security buffer zone.”

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Disgraceful!!! Israeli Occupation Soldiers Charged For Looting Gaza

ERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli military prosecutors have filed charges against three soldiers for alleged theft from Palestinians, and related offences, during last summer’s Gaza war, the military said on Monday.

They were the first indictments relating to the 50-day “Operation Protective Edge”, the subject of a United Nations inquiry which is to report its findings shortly.
An Israeli army statement said that charges were filed in a military court last week against three soldiers accused of “a looting crime” in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City.
“Two soldiers are charged with looting money amounting to 2,420 shekels ($620) from a building in Shejaiya in which the troops were stationed, and another is accused of aiding and abetting the crime,” it said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in November appointed a five-member panel to investigate Israeli attacks on shelters of the UN Palestinian refugee agency during the July-August Gaza war and the discovery of Hamas weapons at UN sites.It is expected to publish its findings within days.”On seven occasions six UNRWA facilities were hit directly or indirectly and dozens of civilians, including UNRWA staff, were killed,” agency spokesman Chris Gunness said on Monday.
The conflict ended with a truce between Israel and the territory’s de facto rulers Hamas after the deaths of about 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.Israel maintains that Hamas militants used schools to store weapons, and fired rockets from the vicinity of schools.The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has set up a separate commission of inquiry into the actions of both sides, due to report in June.The Palestinians last month joined the International Criminal Court in a move they hope could open the door to prosecution of Israeli officials for alleged war crimes.The Israeli military is holding its own investigations, with dozens of cases currently open.

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Israeli Occupation Forces Shoot, Injure Palestinian In Northern Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli forces shot and injured a Palestinian man east of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday.A Ministry of Health spokesman, Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra, said that the 37-year-old man had been shot in his right foot in the Abu Safiya area east of Beit Hanoun.

Al-Qudra said the injured man had been moved to Kamal Adwan hospital for treatment, and described his condition as moderate.The injury came as Israeli forces opened fire on fishermen and farmers across the Gaza Strip.

Witnesses reported that Israeli naval forces fired on fishing boats four miles off the coast, damaging the boats and forcing the fisherman to return to land.Meanwhile, Israeli border forces fired smoke bombs at farmers’ land east of Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have repeatedly opened fire on Gazans since the ceasefire agreement signed Aug. 26, 2014 that ended a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas.In March alone, there were a total of 38 incidents of shootings, incursions into the coastal enclave, and arrests, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).That was up from 26 incidents through February, and left seven Palestinians injured and one dead.The attacks come despite Israeli promises at the end of the ceasefire to ease restrictions on Palestinian access to both the sea and the border region near the “security buffer zone.”