The Humanitarian’s Dilemma

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working for more than 15 years in the occupied Palestinian territories. Our medical and psychological programs give a window into the daily reality for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. It is a journey that reveals the devastation of the policies of occupation, whether through blockades and bombardments or through walls and nighttime raids.

One form of psychological violence experienced by our patients is the constant threat of loved ones being locked away indefinitely, without charge.

In the town of Majdal Bani Fadil, six children are living by themselves: Both parents were arrested in the past year, an uncle explained when I visited their home with one of our psychological assessment teams in late April. Their mother was taken away in the middle of the night 12 months ago, he told me, and says that she has been held without sentencing ever since.

The children not only saw her dragged away, but they also have no idea when she will return. Now the eldest daughter cannot focus on her studies, the middle son is prone to violent outbursts, and the middle daughter is often found crying in her parents’ old room. “They don’t have hope,” the uncle said.

MSF sees how this sort of administrative detention–through which people can be held indefinitely without charges–heightens the psychological violence inflicted on Palestinian children. The presence of the Israeli army and its use of force are the main cause of the psychological trauma of our patients in the West Bank. A review of the main triggers resulting in our patients’ need for psychological treatment showed that just over half (52 percent) of them describe violent IDF search operations inside their homes, 42 percent say one or more family members is currently incarcerated, and 35 percent report being affected by indirect violence such as shootings or incursion operations by the IDF.

Unsurprisingly, children suffer the worst effects. Half of the 254 patients who received care in 2014 were younger than 15, and 25 percent were younger than 10. Fifty percent of the children we see say they have trouble sleeping, 34 percent report anxiety, 28 percent have trouble concentrating, and 21 percent report bed-wetting.

Even our most seasoned psychologists are shocked by the levels of trauma.

[Jason Cone writing in “Foreign Policy”]

Outrage as ICC drops case against Israel for attack on humanitarian flotilla

Folowing the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announcing she will not take action over Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists, the ICC is being accused of “defying justice”.

The ruling came despite the court’s acknowledgement that Israel likely committed war crimes. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated Thursday that “there is a reasonable basis to believe” that Israel committed “war crimes” in its attack on the Mavi Marmara vessel, echoing the findings of a 61-page report by ICC prosecutors.

The Center for Constitutional Rights blasted the court’s decision: “It is outrageous that the ICC is refusing to prosecute Israeli officials despite acknowledging that there’s a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed. For the court to say the case ‘would not be of sufficient gravity’ to justify further action when the Israeli Defense Force attacked international vessels in international waters, killed nine people and seriously injured many more, defies any reasonable understanding of justice and international law.”

“Calling it a war crime is encouraging, but there is a factor of disappointment that they will not take this investigation further,” Ehab Lotayef of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition told Common Dreams. “Israel commits war crimes against unarmed civilians in many incidents, whether inside occupied territories in Gaza or the West Bank, whether against internationals or locals.”

The Mavi Marmara was one of six ships in 2010, organized by an international coalition of campaigners for Palestinian rights, blocked and raided by Israel while attempting to break the siege of Gaza. For the past six years, solidarity ships have sought to sail to Gaza from around the world, but since 2008, none have reached their destination.

Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara on the May 31, 2010, immediately killing nine people and wounding over 50, with one person later dying from the wounds sustained. An eighteen-year-old U.S. citizen was filming the raid when he was shot several times, including in the face at point-blank range, resulting in his death.

[BBC/Common Dreams]

The Norm in Gaza

Excerpts of an opinion piece by eminent political philosopher Noam Chomsky:

On July 17, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, killing 298 civilians. President Obama denounced it as an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” His UN Ambassador thundered that “we must stop at nothing to determine who is responsible and to bring them to justice.”

With the Israeli attack on Gaza in July [which to date has killed nearly 1800], President Obama spoke out of his “strong condemnation of rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel by the militant group Hamas,” while “also expressing ‘growing concern’ about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza,” but without condemnation. The Senate filled that gap, voting unanimously to support Israeli actions in Gaza.

This is the norm.

[Another part of] the norm in Gaza is described in detail by the heroic Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert, who has worked in Gaza’s main hospital, and just before this latest Israeli onslaught, submitted a report on the Gaza health sector to UNRWA, the UN Agency that tries desperately, on a shoestring, to care for refugees.

“At least 57 % of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 % are now aid recipients,” Gilbert reports. “Food insecurity and rising poverty also mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 % of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” a situation that is becoming even worse as Israel again attacks water and sewage systems, leaving over a million people with even more severe disruption of the barest necessity of life.

Gilbert reports that “Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering immensely. A large proportion are affected by the man-made malnourishment regime caused by the Israeli imposed blockage. Prevalence of anaemia in children under 2yrs of age in Gaza is at 72.8%, while prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight have been documented at 34.3%, 31.4%, 31.45% respectively.”

Another norm for Gaza: For the past 14 years, Israel has killed more than two Palestinian children a week.

The distinguished human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, who has remained in Gaza through years of terror, reports that “The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about ceasefire: everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better to just die. I am talking about intellectuals and academics ….ordinary people [are] saying that.”

Similar sentiments have been widely voiced: it is better to die with dignity than to be slowly strangled by the torturer.