#ObliteratedFamilies – Introduction by Amira Hass

Rubble of the Maadi house

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

Behind every erased Gazan family is an Israeli pilot. Behind every orphaned child who has lost his brothers and sisters in the bombing is an Israeli commander who gave the order and a soldier who pulled the trigger. Behind every demolished house are the Israeli physicist and hi-tech specialist who calculated the optimal angles for maximal impact. And there is the army spokesperson (backed by legal experts) who always evaded the journalist’s question: how proportional is it to shell an entire building with all its inhabitants? What – in your laws – justifies killing 23 family members, babies, children and the elderly among them, in one fell swoop of a missile?

There is one very present absentee in the “stories” below: Israeli society. Whether those members of society directly responsible, from government ministers and general military staff down through the ranks, or those who are indirectly responsible in their support and refusal to know. Have the direct accomplices – most of whom preserve their armed anonymity – ever shown any interest in knowing who was targeted by their sophisticated smart bombs? Or how many unarmed civilians they killed, their names, how many girls and boys, how many members of a single family, how many entire families have been erased? Disastrously, the safe guess is that physical distance and the fact that both soldiers and commanders did not have to soil their hands with blood nor see the mangled bodies with their own eyes helped them greatly to bury any information, knowledge, and thought.

Before and between the major onslaughts of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 “smaller-scale” Israeli assaults were carried out, and they too wiped out lives, or erased the toil of many years and added traumas onto past disasters. Another link in such a long chain of injustices that one’s head is dizzy with disbelief, or the need to forget. At times, Gazans themselves help one forget: with their humor, their warmth, the continuity of life and vitality their creativity which breaks through all barriers and limitations of the siege and the pain, their silences – for they are sick of telling, or because what’s the point. But more than ever, more than any previous large-scale or smaller-scale assault, after 2014, the quenched eyes of Gazans have recounted how that was the most horrific of attacks.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculated that 142 families lost three or more members, each of these families in a single Israeli shelling or bombing. The total was 742 persons, more than 25% of all Palestinian casualties of that summer. There is nothing more difficult than gathering testimonies from people whose families have been nearly wiped out, to try and describe the horrendous vacuum which has been created and cannot be filled. The choice of “only” ten families, is a statement: testimony gathering and reading must not become automatic. It mustn’t, lest feelings be dulled. Therefore, the silences and the spaces between the spoken and the unspoken, between the written and the unwritten, speak for all the rest.

The erasure of entire families was one of the appalling characteristics of the 2014 assault. These were no errors or mistaken personal choices on the part of a pilot or a navigator or a brigade commander. This was policy. There are no anonymous players here: the identity of the policy makers is well known, as are their names and positions. Between July 7 and August 26, Israel carried out about 6,000 air raids on the Gaza Strip and fired 14,500 tank shells and about 35,000 artillery shells. 2,251 Palestinians were killed, among them 1,462 civilians, 551 of whom were children, and 299 women. Some of the non-civilians killed – namely combatant members of the armed organizations – were not killed in battle but under the same civilian circumstances where their relatives were also killed: in their beds, in their own homes, during the fast-breaking meal, in their residential quarters.

As stated in B’Tselem’s report “Black Flag”, which investigated 70 of the 142 incidents, with the exception of a few cases Israel never gave any explanation for bombing or shelling those houses with their inhabitants inside. In other words, Israel never disclosed what and who were its targets: perhaps one of the family members, perhaps a weapons stash in the house or fire opened from a neighboring house? But the systematic action and the silence both show that Israel finds it ‘legitimate’ and ‘proportional’ to kill entire families: if one of their members is a Hamas fighter, if a weapons stash is held nearby or in their home, or for any other similar reason. What does it mean? That it is legitimate to shell nearly every home in Israel, for nearly every Israeli family has an armed soldier, and many homes are inhabited by senior army officials, and important military and security installations are situated in the heart of Israeli civilian population. This is an absurd and criminal criterion of warfare, opposed to international law and basic principles of justice. But the majority in Israeli society embraces it as right and justified.

According to OCHA, Hamas and other Palestinian armed organizations launched 4,881 rockets and fired 1,753 mortar shells against Israel. 94% of these reached the maximum range of 50 kilometers, mentions B’Tselem. This fire targeted mostly Israeli civilian communities. Because of the limited technology of Hamas’ weapons, and thanks to Israel’s state-of-the-art defense capacities and the evacuation of numerous Israeli residents, the number of Israeli civilian casualties was minimal: six Israeli civilians were killed, among them one 5-year old child. The 67 Israeli soldiers killed during the onslaught were casualties in battle. The Palestinian combatants who killed them were defending their own population from the invader.

The Gaza Strip is not a sovereign state, even if the Hamas regime sometimes behaves like a sovereign government of a liberated territory. According to international agreements, the Strip is an inseparable part of the Palestinian state which the world is still committed to creating, at least by declaration. It is still under Israeli occupation – even though the parameters of control differ from those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For example, the population registry of Gaza, as that of the West Bank, is subordinate to the Israeli Ministry of Interior and its policies. Only upon Israeli approval is the Palestinian Authority able to issue new ID cards to 16-year-olds in the Gaza Strip every year, as in the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinians, among them refugees from Syria, live in the Gaza Strip without Palestinian IDs: Israel will not have it. As an occupying force, Israel is supposedly responsible for the population – while it shirks this responsibility with increasingly brutal measures of domination and revenge. Its military assaults were and still are the continuation of Israel’s consistent policy of separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinians in its attempt to crush the people and turn it into a collection of separate, disconnected groups and individuals.

As the occupied, Palestinians have the right to fight the occupier. But this right is also subject to international law, to common sense, to international circumstances, to the leadership’s responsibility towards its public. Hamas has had its own internal political considerations in choosing the military path in spite of all the previous rounds of warfare that failed to achieve its declared national objectives. True, over the years Hamas has developed its own means and skills of warfare. But, as the 2014 war showed, it has been – and remains – inferior to Israel’s military might. Military confrontations are Israel’s home field, where it excels. It is precisely the field that should be avoided.

Amira Hass
6 July 2016

The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian Occupied Territory; together with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. More than 70% of Gaza Palestinians are refugees, forced to leave their homes in the lands grabbed by the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and forbidden from returning.

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Amira Hass: Introduction to #Obliterated Families

Gaza: A gaping wound

#ObliteratedFamilies

Behind every erased Gazan family is an Israeli pilot. Behind every orphaned child who has lost his brothers and sisters in the bombing is an Israeli commander who gave the order and a soldier who pulled the trigger. Behind every demolished house are the Israeli physicist and hi-tech specialist who calculated the optimal angles for maximal impact. And there is the army spokesperson (backed by legal experts) who always evaded the journalist’s question: how proportional is it to shell an entire building with all its inhabitants? What – in your laws – justifies killing 23 family members, babies, children and the elderly among them, in one fell swoop of a missile?

There is one very present absentee in the “stories” below: Israeli society. Whether those members of society directly responsible, from government ministers and general military staff down through the ranks, or those who are indirectly responsible in their support and refusal to know. Have the direct accomplices – most of whom preserve their armed anonymity – ever shown any interest in knowing who was targeted by their sophisticated smart bombs? Or how many unarmed civilians they killed, their names, how many girls and boys, how many members of a single family, how many entire families have been erased? Disastrously, the safe guess is that physical distance and the fact that both soldiers and commanders did not have to soil their hands with blood nor see the mangled bodies with their own eyes helped them greatly to bury any information, knowledge, and thought.

Before and between the major onslaughts of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 “smaller-scale” Israeli assaults were carried out, and they too wiped out lives, or erased the toil of many years and added traumas onto past disasters. Another link in such a long chain of injustices that one’s head is dizzy with disbelief, or the need to forget. At times, Gazans themselves help one forget: with their humor, their warmth, the continuity of life and vitality their creativity which breaks through all barriers and limitations of the siege and the pain, their silences – for they are sick of telling, or because what’s the point. But more than ever, more than any previous large-scale or smaller-scale assault, after 2014, the quenched eyes of Gazans have recounted how that was the most horrific of attacks.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculated that 142 families lost three or more members, each of these families in a single Israeli shelling or bombing. The total was 742 persons, more than 25% of all Palestinian casualties of that summer. There is nothing more difficult than gathering testimonies from people whose families have been nearly wiped out, to try and describe the horrendous vacuum which has been created and cannot be filled. The choice of “only” ten families, is a statement: testimony gathering and reading must not become automatic. It mustn’t, lest feelings be dulled. Therefore, the silences and the spaces between the spoken and the unspoken, between the written and the unwritten, speak for all the rest.

The erasure of entire families was one of the appalling characteristics of the 2014 assault. These were no errors or mistaken personal choices on the part of a pilot or a navigator or a brigade commander. This was policy. There are no anonymous players here: the identity of the policy makers is well known, as are their names and positions. Between July 7 and August 26, Israel carried out about 6,000 air raids on the Gaza Strip and fired 14,500 tank shells and about 35,000 artillery shells. 2,251 Palestinians were killed, among them 1,462 civilians, 551 of whom were children, and 299 women. Some of the non-civilians killed – namely combatant members of the armed organizations – were not killed in battle but under the same civilian circumstances where their relatives were also killed: in their beds, in their own homes, during the fast-breaking meal, in their residential quarters.

As stated in B’Tselem’s report “Black Flag”, which investigated 70 of the 142 incidents, with the exception of a few cases Israel never gave any explanation for bombing or shelling those houses with their inhabitants inside. In other words, Israel never disclosed what and who were its targets: perhaps one of the family members, perhaps a weapons stash in the house or fire opened from a neighboring house? But the systematic action and the silence both show that Israel finds it ‘legitimate’ and ‘proportional’ to kill entire families: if one of their members is a Hamas fighter, if a weapons stash is held nearby or in their home, or for any other similar reason. What does it mean? That it is legitimate to shell nearly every home in Israel, for nearly every Israeli family has an armed soldier, and many homes are inhabited by senior army officials, and important military and security installations are situated in the heart of Israeli civilian population. This is an absurd and criminal criterion of warfare, opposed to international law and basic principles of justice. But the majority in Israeli society embraces it as right and justified.

According to OCHA, Hamas and other Palestinian armed organizations launched 4,881 rockets and fired 1,753 mortar shells against Israel. 94% of these reached the maximum range of 50 kilometers, mentions B’Tselem. This fire targeted mostly Israeli civilian communities. Because of the limited technology of Hamas’ weapons, and thanks to Israel’s state-of-the-art defense capacities and the evacuation of numerous Israeli residents, the number of Israeli civilian casualties was minimal: six Israeli civilians were killed, among them one 5-year old child. The 67 Israeli soldiers killed during the onslaught were casualties in battle. The Palestinian combatants who killed them were defending their own population from the invader.

The Gaza Strip is not a sovereign state, even if the Hamas regime sometimes behaves like a sovereign government of a liberated territory. According to international agreements, the Strip is an inseparable part of the Palestinian state which the world is still committed to creating, at least by declaration. It is still under Israeli occupation – even though the parameters of control differ from those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For example, the population registry of Gaza, as that of the West Bank, is subordinate to the Israeli Ministry of Interior and its policies. Only upon Israeli approval is the Palestinian Authority able to issue new ID cards to 16-year-olds in the Gaza Strip every year, as in the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinians, among them refugees from Syria, live in the Gaza Strip without Palestinian IDs: Israel will not have it. As an occupying force, Israel is supposedly responsible for the population – while it shirks this responsibility with increasingly brutal measures of domination and revenge. Its military assaults were and still are the continuation of Israel’s consistent policy of separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinians in its attempt to crush the people and turn it into a collection of separate, disconnected groups and individuals.

As the occupied, Palestinians have the right to fight the occupier. But this right is also subject to international law, to common sense, to international circumstances, to the leadership’s responsibility towards its public. Hamas has had its own internal political considerations in choosing the military path in spite of all the previous rounds of warfare that failed to achieve its declared national objectives. True, over the years Hamas has developed its own means and skills of warfare. But, as the 2014 war showed, it has been – and remains – inferior to Israel’s military might. Military confrontations are Israel’s home field, where it excels. It is precisely the field that should be avoided.

Amira Hass
6 July 2016

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Amira Hass: I Went to See the Plight of the Dried-out Settlements. I Found a Pool

Amira Hass, Haaretz, June 26, 2016

With Israel having cut the Palestinians’ water supply, I visited two settlements where the people are supposedly suffering too.

Thus tweeted MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) on Friday: “No joke: We’ve gone back 100 years!” He reported on five stations for providing drinking water that were placed that morning in the settlement of Kedumim.

That day, the religious Zionist weekly Makor Rishon published an article titled “The water crisis in Judea and Samaria: In the settlement of Eli huge bags of drinking water were distributed to the residents.”

So I set out to witness this suffering at two settlements. I left before I saw the tweet by one Avraham Benyamin in response to Smotrich: “We’re waiting for a series of empathetic articles in Haaretz. We’ll continue to wait.”

Indeed, last week I started writing my annual series of articles on the systematic theft of water from the Palestinians. I was surprised not to find any newspaper reports about water problems in the settlements. There weren’t any on Army Radio and Israel Radio – notorious clandestine supporters of the BDS movement. But neither did I find any mention of it on websites linked to the settlement lobby.

After all, since the beginning of June, when the Mekorot national water company began cutting water supplies to the Palestinians in the Salfit and Nablus areas by some 30 to 50 percent, Israeli spokespeople have claimed there is a shortage in the settlements too. (Or in the unsanitized words of a Palestinian employee in the Civil Administration: They’re cutting back from the Arabs so there will be water for the settlers.)

Makor Rishon reporter Hodaya Karish Hazony wrote: “In the communities of Migdalim, Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Tapuah, Givat Haroeh, Alonei Shiloh and others there have been water stoppages. ‘We’re between insanity and despair on this matter,’ said one resident.”

So I went to check the water shortage that’s driving the people from insanity to despair in Eli. I looked for people lining up for water. I didn’t find them. Then I drove from the center of the lush settlement to isolated Hill No. 9, the site of the Hayovel neighborhood mentioned in the article.

There I found two huge and swollen blue sacks from the Water Authority, with faucets attached to them. A sign requests that you “maintain order” while waiting and notes that “priority will be given to the elderly, the ill and children.”

At about 3 P.M. I didn’t see any elderly, ill people or children waiting next to the faucets. Nor did I see any ordinary adults. A few drops leaked from the faucets and wet the asphalt. People entered or left their cars. Artificial grass adorned areas near the neighborhood’s prefab homes.

Near the soldiers’ guard post, about 50 meters from one sack of water, there was an area of natural grass that was quite green. Next to it were a few tree saplings, and the soil around them was wet, with several puddles. A soldier said that over the week there had been several water stoppages, and he thought the sacks were brought on Thursday. The article said Wednesday.

In a small public building nearby, the bathroom was open and sparkling clean. The toilet flushed nicely, and refreshing water flowed from the sink’s faucet. A woman who got out of her car next to the sack of water said, hesitantly, “I’ve used it sometimes.” And why not more? “It’s unpleasant; the water is warm.”

Further down, in the center of Eli, I came across girls holding bags with towels and bathing suits. “Is the pool open? Where is it?” I asked.

Following their instructions I arrived at the Eli pool. Splashing sounds and the joyful shouts of swimmers could be heard from behind the fence. The lawns around the pool were natural and green. I wondered: Where’s the solidarity? Why don’t they bring water from the center of Eli to the neighborhood that’s suffering because of its altitude?

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Amira Hass: Israel Incapable of Telling Truth About Water It Steals From Palestinians

Water is the only issue in which Israel (still) finds it difficult to defend its discriminatory, oppressive and destructive policy with pretexts of security and God

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jun 21, 2016

Israeli spokespeople have three answers ready to pull out when they respond to questions on the water shortage in West Bank Palestinian towns – which stands out starkly compared to the hydrological smugness of the settlements: 1) The Palestinian water system is old, so it suffers from water loss; 2) the Palestinians steal water from each other, and from the Israelis; and 3) in general, Israel has in its great generosity doubled the amount of water it supplies to the Palestinians, compared to what was called for in the Oslo Accords.

“Supplies,” the spokespeople will write in their responses. They will never say Israel sells the Palestinians 64 million cubic meters of water a year instead of the 31 million cubic meters agreed to in the Oslo Accords. Accords that were signed in 1994, and that were supposed to come to an end in 1999. They will not say that Israel sells the Palestinians water that it first stole from them.

Bravo for the demagogy. Bravo for the one-eighth portion of truth in the answer. Water is the only issue in which Israel (still) finds it difficult to defend its discriminatory, oppressive and destructive policy with pretexts of security and God. That is why it must blur and distort this basic fact: Israel controls the water sources. And being in control, it imposes a quota on the amount of water the Palestinians are allowed to produce and consume. On average, the Palestinians consume 73 liters per person per day. Below the recommended minimum. Israelis consume a daily 180 liters on average, and there are those who say even more. And here, unlike there, you will not find thousands who consume 20 liters a day. In the summer.

True, some Palestinians steal water. Desperate farmers, regular chiselers. If it was not for the water shortage, it would not happen. A large part of the thefts are in Area C, under full Israeli control. So please, let the IDF and police find all the criminals. But to justify the crisis with theft – that is deceit.

With the Oslo Accords, Israel imposed an outrageous, racist, arrogant and brutal division of water sources in the West Bank: 80 percent for Israelis (on both sides of the Green Line), and 20 percent for the Palestinians (from wells drilled before 1967, which the Palestinians continued to operate; from the Mekorot water company; from future wells to be drilled in the eastern basin of the mountain aquifer; from agricultural wells and springs. Many of the springs, by the way, dried out because of Israeli deep wells, or because the settlers took them over. The ways of theft know no bounds.)

Twenty percent is actually good, because now only about 14 percent of the water from the mountain aquifer is accessible to Palestinians in the West Bank. Technical reasons, irregularities and human error, insufferable Israeli bureaucratic foot-dragging, whose entire goal is to delay the development of the Palestinian water infrastructure and the upgrading of what now exists; unexpected difficulties in producing water from wells in the allowed places, old wells that have dried out or whose production has fallen, and which Israel does not allow to be replaced by newly-drilled wells – all these explain how we have reached 14 percent instead of what was signed in Oslo, and why Israel sells the Palestinians more water that it committed to back then. After all, it has been left with more water to produce from this natural resource, which, according to international law, an occupying country is forbidden to use for the purposes of its civilian population.

During the summer, the problem becomes worse, of course. The heat rises and the Palestinians’ demand for water rises, not just the settlers’. So in the Salfit district and east of Nablus, Mekorot reduces the amount of water it sells to Palestinians. The spokespeople will not state it that way. They will say “regulating,” they will say, too. that in the settlements “there are also complaints about a water shortage” (it seems I missed the report on Arutz 7 about it).

But in Farkha, Salfit and Deir al-Hatab people describe, on the verge of tears, how humiliating it is to live for weeks without running water. And we have not even spoken about the dozens of Palestinian communities on both sides of the Green Line that Israel, a light unto the nations, refuses to allow to connect to the water infrastructure.

Amira Hass
Haaretz Correspondent

 

Amira Hass: Israel Admits Cutting West Bank Water Supply, but Blames Palestinian Authority

Israel says region’s intense heatwave combined with Palestinian Water Authority’s refusal to approve additional infrastructure had led to ‘old and limited pipes being unable to transfer all the water needed.’


A water tanker in the Palestinian village of Halhul, near Hebron. Michal Fattal

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jun 21, 2016

Since the start of this month, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been suffering the harsh effects of a drastic cut in the water supplied them by Israel’s Mekorot water company.

In the Salfit region of the West Bank and in three villages east of Nablus, homes have had no running water for more than two weeks. Factories there have been shut down, gardens and plant nurseries have been ruined and animals have died of thirst or been sold to farmers outside the affected areas.

People have been improvising by drawing water from agricultural wells, or by buying mineral water or paying for water brought in large tankers for household use and to water their livestock. But purchasing water that way is extremely expensive.

Palestinian Water Authority officials told Haaretz that people at Mekorot have told them the supply cuts were going to last the entire summer. The sources said they were told by the Israelis that there is a water shortage and that everything must be done to assure that the local reservoirs (located in the settlements) stay full so that the necessary pressure can be maintained to stream the water through the pipelines leading to other settlements and Palestinian communities.

Palestinian municipal officials say that Palestinian workers for the Civil Administration who are sent to regulate the quantities of water in the Mekorot pipes told them the water cuts were made to meet the area settlements’ demand for water, which is rising in the hot weather. Similar cuts were initiated in the same areas last year, when the severe water supply interruptions also occurred during Ramadan.

Mekorot would not answer questions, referring Haaretz to the Israel Water Authority and the Foreign Ministry. Uri Schor, the Water Authority spokesman, wrote that the quantities of water Israel sells to the Palestinians throughout the West Bank, including in the Salfit area, has gone up over the years.

“A localized water shortage has developed for Israelis and Palestinians alike in northern Samaria and it stems from the especially high consumption because of the region’s intense heat,” Schor wrote. He added that the shortage developed because the Palestinian Water Authority is refusing to approve additional water infrastructure in the West Bank through the joint water committee, “which has led to the old and limited pipes being unable to transfer all the water needed in the region.”

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April 3, 2008
Amira Hass in Madison

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
7:30 pm
Pyle Center, UW Campus

Amira Hass is a world-renowned Israeli journalist, and the only one who actually lives among the Palestinians that she reports on. She is a courageous and articulate voice on the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

Hass covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli daily Haaretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza and Reporting from Ramallah. Known for her honest and often brutal portrayals of the impact of Israeli occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she received the 1999 International World Press Freedom Award in recognition of her work in the Gaza Strip. She gave this talk as part of the “Reporting the Middle East” lecture series at UW-Madison in October 2003.

Hass will also be a guest on A Public Affair on Friday, April 4th from noon to 1:00 p.m. on WORT 89.9 FM with host Judith Siers-Poisson.

Sponsored by the UW Middle East Studies Program. Co-sponsors include the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and Playgrounds for Palestine — Madison.