Can Catholics disagree only when they agree with the church?

July 31st, 2014

Eugene Cullen Kennedy 30/7/.14
A public-relations guru once explained his work to me: “When the city gas main blows up, I convince everybody that it is really urban renewal.” Is the new document from the International Theological Commission an explosion in St. Peter’s Square that is described as church renewal?
The document, ” ‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church,” concerns a twofold concept: the sensus fidei, the sense of the faithful believer, and the sensus fidei fidelium, the sense of faith of the faithful believers. It has been welcomed by many theologians who seem pleasantly surprised by its contents.
Fordham University’s Bradford Hinze describes the document’s “posture of openness,” noting that, in effect, it says “that the hierarchy has to recognize that they may not have it right yet” and that Catholics may “deny assent” to church teachings “if they do not recognize in that teaching the voice of Christ.”
That is also a good description of “reception,” which has been understood as one of the munera, or gifts, of the church from its beginning. This gift is exercised by the People of God who constitute the church and is given to the everyday Catholics who express the sensus fidei fidelium and the sensus fidei that are the subjects of this Roman instrument.
“Reception” is defined in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism as a process whereby the faithful accept a teaching or decision of the church. In the ancient church, confessions of faith, liturgies, and the decrees of councils received general recognition and authority by means of reception.
Reception by the believing community has always been the test of whether a teaching is to be regarded as authoritative or not. Furthermore, “recognition by reception is a form of consensus formation in a Church that understands itself as a community of local churches.”
In the course of history, “as the particular role of the local churches diminished and the role of a centralized ‘lawgiver’ became more prominent reception was reduced to obedience.” That reduction of reception to a caricature of its traditional meaning remains a vivid memory for many Catholics. Since the Second Vatican Council, “the Church is being rediscovered as community and the role of reception is regaining respect.”
Reception is, then, no small gift of the believing community that it can give but withhold as well when the teaching or practice in question does not ring true to apostolic tradition. Examples of non-reception, on matters great and small, abound in the history of the church.
The canon of scriptural books was decided through reception by the community of believers. In a historically small matter, Pope John XXIII’s 1962 encyclical restoring Latin as the language of theological education (Veterum Sapientia) was turned into a dead letter by its non-reception by the Catholic community.
As a historical matter of far greater influence and relevance, the non-reception by the churches of Pope Paul VI’s restatement of the church’s ban of birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) is understood as rejection by the believing majority.
When non-reception occurs, the teaching in question is erroneous, inadequately expressed or, so to speak, judged unbelievable by the majority of good, faithful Catholics. This gift of reception is a long-accepted expression, then, of the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful” with which the present document concerns itself.
Although often misunderstood, this sense of the faithful is also expressed in other behavior, as, for example, in the drop in the number of confessions after Vatican II. Some have claimed that this “neglect” of penance is part of what its critics call the chaos and confusion sown by that council.
This less frequent use of confession was not a rejection of the sacrament of penance, but rather a healthy rejection of the exaggerated sense of sin and guilt that had, for example, made eating meat on Friday as grave a sin as murder.
The Christian community expresses the sensus fidelium by its operational judgment that trivialities, foibles and the imperfection of the human condition are not sins that need to be confessed regularly or at all. This should be considered a healthy rebalancing of the scales of moral intuition and judgment.
A rear-guard action is still being carried out by those leaders in the church who misread this sense of the faithful as a loss of devotion rather than the recovery of a truly Catholic perspective on the relative gravity of sins.
In the present document, reception is acknowledged but is hemmed in with spears of qualification. It may be easier to pass the initiation for third-degree membership in the Knights of Columbus than to be recognized as a Catholic who shares the gift of reception.
These include active participation in the life of the church, especially through the liturgy; a “heartfelt” endorsement of the Gospel preached to them; and “openness to reason,” which is described as “acceptance of the proper role of reason in relation to faith” that “purifies” it.
The real kicker is found in the fourth demand that believers must adhere to the magisterium, a qualification that, on its face, means that a genuine sense of the faith and of the faithful depends on accepting exactly what the magisterium says – a pre-emption, it would seem, of the community’s using the gift of reception except in accord with what the pope and bishops already teach or, as the document expresses it, “attentiveness to the magisterium of the Church, and a willingness to listen to the teaching of the pastors of the Church, as an act of freedom and deeply held conviction.”
Only in the church must you accept the magisterium’s every word as if you were doing it freely when, in effect, you are being forced to do it, or, as the ITC paper expresses it, as “an act of freedom and deeply held conviction.”
In a similar squeeze play, believers must practice a catalog of virtues, including humility and holiness, that would humble a monastery of Trappists before they can be graced with the sensus fidei. To claim the latter, believers must edify the church and avoid anything that would divide it.
- How about – in view of the sex abuse scandal, money laundering by the Vatican bank, and embezzling archbishops – the church’s doing something to edify the ordinary, everyday Catholics who put up with a lot and ask for very little?
The document is at pains to distinguish what its authors seem to believe to be the temptations of those with a sense of the faith. The authors labor mightily to distinguish the sense of the faith from what they deride as popular religiosity or, God forbid, public opinion that they think believers frequently follow instead of the teachings of the church.
As one distinguished traditionalist commentator, Jeff Mirus, sums up the thrust of this central portion of the document, “Thus what has been enunciated by the Magisterium is received by the Church as belonging to the deposit of faith.” In short, Catholics can employ their gift of reception only when they go along with what and how the church has expressed some teaching.
The document is, as Boston College’s Richard Galliardetz observes, thin on developing ways to consult with the faithful on theological questions. The document’s claim that sometimes a “remnant” preserves the faith is a romantic cliché rather than a convincing argument against reception as a gift through which the sense of the faith of the faithful is authoritatively expressed.
The examples of past consultation with the faithful are dismaying.
The authors cite Pope Pius IX’s writing to bishops to find out if there was, in their dioceses, a history of belief in the Immaculate Conception before he unilaterally defined it as a dogma of faith in 1854. So, too, Pope Pius XII consulted with bishops in the same wide-ranging way before his unilateral declaration of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, regarded by commentators as an infallible ex cathedra statement.
That so many Catholics have become theologically sophisticated and that so many laypeople are now outnumbering the clergy as highly trained theologians should motivate the authors to explain the theological challenges that need to be explored and explained before these dogmas can be used as examples of consultation or as naively accepted by believers.
- Are these teachings to be accepted as literal truths about the Virgin Mary?
- Or does extensive scholarly work remain to be done to understand these as mytho-poetic statements with many precedents in other mythological traditions that abound in virgin births and varied ascents into the heavens?
Before adult Catholics can give wholehearted assent to these teachings, their superficial literal casings must be removed to discover the spiritual meanings of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption. A magisterium that presents the concrete denotation of a mytho-poetic statement and ignores the connotations in which its deeper religious meaning is enfolded does not inspire confidence in believers who bear the sense of the faith and of the faithful.
Reading this document leaves the reader asking whether it is intended to recognize and extol the gift of reception that is the foundation of the sense of the faith and of the faithful community, or to repress it, granting it a wax dummy setting in the Madame Tussauds of the Vatican’s curial offices, whose occupants should be open to its living expression rather than taking pride in turning it into a trophy of their daily hunt for concrete orthodoxy.
One may now appreciate theologian Karl Rahner’s resigning from this commission, saying as he departed that it “stews in its own juices.”
It is said that it is immoral to bet on a sure thing, but let me wager recklessly that this document will not be received by the majority of sane, humble, reasonable and faithful Catholics.
http://ncronline.org/blogs/bulletins-human-side/new-sensus-fidei-document-can-catholics-disagree-only-when-they-agree [Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago.]
Vatican, Belief
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What our parish does about contraception and family planning

Peter Daly’ 28714

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- What does our parish do about contraception?
We teach as the church teaches.
- Are we having any significant impact? No.
Most couples in our parish, like couples in most parishes in the developed world, are certainly using artificial contraception. Practically every young family has two or three children. I doubt that they are practicing natural family planning.
- How do we teach in regard to contraception?
Once a year or so, I try to preach on the topic. It is not easy. There are almost no Scripture readings that lend themselves to homilies against contraception. When I do preach on it, I try to keep the emphasis on the positive aspects of NFP than the negative of birth control as a sin.
Whenever people come in for marriage preparation, I give them a CD by Janet E. Smith titled, “Contraception, Why Not?” I also give them some brochures from Our Sunday Visitor and brochures from our family life office on NFP. I also encourage each couple to take a class in NFP. It is hard to “require” an NFP class because many couples live in different parts of the country, and often, they are in religiously mixed marriages. We also cover the church’s teaching in RCIA, adult education classes, and in the confirmation classes for youth.
There is very little awareness of the church’s view on artificial contraception, and engaged couples don’t really think that it is any of my business.
I have a standard 20-minute talk that I give, encouraging couples to use NFP. I stress that it is good for five reasons: It is natural. It works. It is mutual. It is respectful of women. And it is open to life.
It must be admitted that NFP couples are not always “open to life.” Pope John Paul II spoke of how a “contraceptive mentality” can pervade even the practice of NFP.
Again, I try to emphasize the positive values of NFP rather than the negative value of sin. Young people are not much impressed by the magisterium, and they certainly don’t think God will send them to hell for all eternity for using the pill. Do our bishops actually believe that?
Our teaching isn’t having much of an effect on our people. I once asked a doctor in my parish, a very devout Catholic, what percentage of his Catholic patients were practicing some form of artificial birth control. “Do you think it is as high as 80 percent?” I asked. He thought for a moment and replied, “No, more like 90 percent.”
As Bishop Robert Lynch from St. Petersburg, Fla., said back in February, on the matter of artificial contraception, “That train left the station long ago. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium [the sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”
The FDA approved birth control pill for contraceptive use in 1960. In the early 1960s, birth control was the hot topic in Catholic circles.
From 1962 to 1968, the question of contraception was an “open question” in Catholic moral theology. Some bishops, mostly in Europe, even came out in favor of some contraception so long as Catholic marriages were overall open to the transmission of life.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) sparked a firestorm. The pope wrote that “direct interruption of the generative process already begun” was “absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” He also condemned sterilization and any action before, after, or during intercourse that was intended to prevent procreation. Each and every act of intercourse must be open to procreation. It was not enough, he said, that a marriage be open to life overall. Inconsistently, the pope allowed for NFP, which has a contraceptive intent.
The pope’s words were a bombshell. He rejected the report of his own special commission of advisers, which included some laypeople. They had recommended some openness to contraception in the totality of marriage.
Humanae Vitae is a well-written encyclical, but it has two fundamental problems, both of which arise not from the text, but from its implementation.
First, it appears to be doing what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). Celibate bishops and priests appear to be putting a burden on married couples that they themselves will not and could not lift.
Second, it became a struggle over authority, not the substance of the issue. In 1968, many bishops framed the issue in terms of obedience to them rather the persuasiveness of their argument. By making it a question of their magisterial authority, the magisterium actually lost credibility. Parents know their argument is weak when they have to resort to the old argument-closer, “Because I said so, that’s why!”
Fr. Andrew Greely wrote in the 1970s that Humanae Vitae was the beginning of the wholesale erosion of lay respect for magisterial teaching. It is no longer true that when “Rome commands, America obeys.”
I remember vividly a Labor Day church picnic in 1968, when people got into a shouting match over the encyclical. They probably would have come to blows if our pastor had not intervened. Back then, people cared what the church said. Today, I don’t think they would care too much. We cannot just stand on our authority. Besides, after the child abuse scandals of the last decade, we have no credibility on sexual matters.
In some ways, Humanae Vitae was prophetic. Pope Paul predicted that public authorities might be tempted to resolve social problems, like overpopulation, by imposing contraception on everyone. It happened in China with the one-child policy.
He also predicted that people would start to see themselves as the “masters of the source of life” rather than its ministers. Today, we see children as a “choice.”
Paul VI also said contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” Today, sexual activity has little or nothing to do with marriage, and marriage seems to have little or nothing to do with child-rearing. People see sex as recreational and child-rearing as a lifestyle choice unconnected to marriage. The availability of contraception has certainly contributed to and helped foster this attitude.
This attitude in turn is responsible for a huge increase in out-of-wedlock births. In 1960, about 7 percent of U.S. babies were born out of wedlock. Today, about 40 percent of U.S. babies are born out of wedlock. That upward trend is consistent with most developed countries.
Partly as a result of consequence-free sex, young people don’t see why they have to wait for marriage to have sex. “Hooking up” and “friends with benefits” are phrases that reflect the ethical atmosphere. Certainly, contraception has facilitated such ethics.
But some of the pope’s predictions do not seem to have come true.
Paul VI said contraception would cause men to “forget the reverence due to a woman” and “disregard her physical and emotional equilibrium, reducing her to a mere instrument for satisfaction of his own desires.” But surely, that train also “left the station” long ago, well before contraception came along. No doubt, men often reduce women to mere objects. But that phenomenon is not new. Men have objectified women for centuries. Women have been the targets of brutality and disrespect quite apart from contraception. I would argue that the feminist movement has made men see women as equals for the first time in history.
As a pastor, I have to say that the teaching of the magisterium on contraception does not seem to take into account the reality of most people’s lives.
While we pay lip service to the difficulties married couples encounter in living the church’s teaching, we don’t provide much of an answer.
- What are people supposed to do in difficult situations like the ones I have encountered in ministry?
What do I say to a mother of six children in her late 30s, who came to me once? She had chronic high blood pressure and diabetes. Her doctor told her that another pregnancy would be life threatening. Her periods were very irregular.
- What should she and her husband do?
They also did not see how they could care for more children in their family, since her husband had recently lost his job. They were overwhelmed with trouble. Neither abstinence nor NFP seemed to be an answer. She clearly had a responsibility to her six children and her husband, as well as to an openness to life.
- What do we say to women in abusive marriages?
- Leave your husband?
- Abstain from sex with him and risk his increased anger?
How can we tell families struggling with unemployment, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, natural disasters, or other serious problems that they should risk another pregnancy?
Is it prudent for families facing long separations because of things like military service or deportation to have another child?
We don’t seem to have a good answer for the complex ethical struggles that beset our people. Our teaching, at times, seems inadequate. Even worse: At times, it seems insensitive. But we just continue on as before.
What does our parish do about contraception? We teach as the church teaches.
- Are we having any significant impact?
No.
http://ncronline.org/blogs/parish-diary/what-our-parish-does-about-contraception-and-family-planning [Fr. Peter Daly is a priest in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and has been pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Md., since 1994.]
Vatican, Family Planning

Editorial: Obstacles riddle synod on the family’s path

July 31st, 2014

NCR Editorial Staff ; 30/7/14
Editor’s note: The 50-page instrumentum laboris, or working document, that was released June 26 and will guide the discussion during the October Synod of Bishops on the family was dry and impersonal, lifeless almost, and that confounded us at NCR. From personal experience and from listening to colleagues, readers and friends, we have experienced marriage and family life as life-giving and joyous. Marriage and family life is not without its challenges and struggles; it offers ample lessons in humility and forgiveness, but that, too, at the best of times can be nurturing.
- If the writers of the instrumentum laboris, which is now supposed to be being studied in dioceses throughout the world, had begun with the fundamental experience of people who have lived in marriages and raised families, we wondered, how different would it have been?
So we asked two NCR contributors to answer this: If the Synod of Bishops asked me about marriage, what would I say? On Monday, we ran Mike Leach’s response. On Tuesday, Melissa Musick Nussbaum’s. Today, we editorialize.
Church leaders, looking around the contemporary landscape, concluded that marriage is under assault in an unprecedented way, and they’re determined to fix it right now.
That assessment and desire are apparent throughout the 50-page instrumentum laboris, or working document, for the Synod of Bishops on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” scheduled for this October at the Vatican. The instinct may be understandable, even commendable, but the pathway to fulfilling it is riddled with complex obstacles. The bishops, unfortunately, seem unaware of the most threatening obstacles, many of them inherent in the very culture out of which they work.
Since Pope Paul VI established the format in 1965, the Synod of Bishops has met 13 times in ordinary sessions, twice in extraordinary session, and has also held 10 “special” meetings focused on issues in specific areas of the globe. The gatherings have produced little that was unexpected. They have been benign at best and regressive at worst. The bulk of them occurred during the reign of Pope John Paul II, who seemed to have had little concern that his final documents summing up the content of the meetings bear any resemblance to what had actually been said.
They were, in the end, his synods, and they would conclude what he wanted them to conclude and ignore the questions he wanted the church to ignore.
We are led to expect more authenticity from a Pope Francis-inspired synod if for no other reason than that he seems far more tolerant of questions and real dialogue than his predecessor.
Accordingly, the instrumentum laboris for the upcoming extraordinary session (a second, ordinary session dealing with the same subject will be held in October 2015) bears some remarkable observations and questions on such topics as natural law and divorced and remarried Catholics.
It is imperative, however, to first understand the culture in which the synod mentality is rooted. As diverse as the issues and personalities involved in meetings of bishops from around the world, a common thread binds all of these gatherings. They have been, without exception, organized by, participated in and interpreted for the world by a tiny representation of humanity, celibate and exclusively male, whose careers have been largely dedicated to maintaining the status quo in a very exclusive fraternity.
The disparity between those who will be doing the talking and deciding and those who will be talked about – the instrumentum is concerned primarily with married men and women, as well as homosexual persons – is, in this instance, particularly glaring.
Not to make too light of the matter, but imagine a synod on the clerical state in which ordained males were only tangentially consulted, and in which they were essentially barred from any direct involvement in the shaping of the conversation or in the conversation itself.
The problem is quite evident on the first page of the introduction to the instrumentum, which explains that during the first phase in 2014, “the synod fathers will thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.” In the second phase in 2015, the work will continue by a representation of “a great part of the episcopate.”
All of those men will consider answers to a questionnaire submitted by “synods of the Eastern Catholic churches … episcopal conferences, the departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General.”
Actual families are finally mentioned as among those — dioceses, parishes, movements, groups and ecclesial associations — permitted to submit responses categorized as “observations.” For some reason, the word is italicized in the text.
The point is easy to make. The whole exercise might have a bit more credibility if actual families — wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, people who had raised children, their own biological children as well as adopted children — had some direct input. This project is in need of the experience of other than vowed and celibate men and women who have given themselves to a way of life markedly different from that of most families in the modern world.
* * *
The second major obstacle is the synod’s fundamental point of view that marriage, unlike, say, the clerical state, is in particular trouble and needs the church’s special attention in order to figure out how to combat all the “-isms” assaulting it. A significant truth resides in the critique of those who see marriage and the family mightily challenged by contemporary mores of consumerism, greed, individualism, secularism, hedonism and relativism.
It is fair to ask, however, how much more families are in trouble today than they were, say, during the past century, when twice the world was aflame and subject to almost unimaginable manifestations of hatred, bloodshed and disregard for other humans, and for decades the globe teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation.
- Finally, how effective might a synod be in its consideration of marriage and the family when, again, the celibate men of the institution insist on rules regarding contraception that much of the community has consistently rejected for more than 50 years?
A section of the document abounds in the church’s soaring rhetoric about marriage, analogizing it to the Trinitarian love of God and Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is called “the great mystery” and a fundamental “community of love.”
But when discussing sex, the deepest human expression of enduring love between two people, humans are reduced to the level of baboons, their only legitimate purpose for engaging in sex the production of more little humans. Love and procreation are reduced to biological necessity. And if that is not the primary intent of every sexual act, then the marriage is fundamentally flawed in the church’s eyes.
The working paper for the synod claims the reason the teaching is rejected is because of lousy catechesis. Lots of married people would tell the synod it’s because of even worse theology and anthropology. The men making the rules really don’t understand the profound joy and endless implications of conjugal love in an enduring, committed relationship. They don’t understand, in any ongoing, experiential way, that fundamental “community of love.” It is about far more than producing offspring. Responsible parenthood involves so much more than making certain that each instance of sexual expression could result in another child.
Nor does the paper address at all what marriage could mean for those unable to conceive, or those who marry beyond their childbearing years.
- And dare we mention the reality that keeps pressing on us with a logic that seems to be accepted more and more by segments of the community — homosexuals in a committed, loving relationship?
Perhaps the dynamic of unintended consequences that accompanied the meetings of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago will be at play in these meetings, and we’ll be treated to a much deeper and creative discussion of these issues than seems possible at the outset.
As hinted above, some encouraging signs poke through the lengthy instrumentum, and two are particularly relevant here. The first is the more than two-and-a-half pages spent on the term “natural law” and the fact that the concept “turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible.”
One might add that it is incomprehensible not only because of varying cultural contexts but also because, on a more basic level, it is an outdated way to approach many of these issues.
The preparatory document also promises a robust and overdue discussion of people in “canonically irregular marriages” and how to approach them with a greater emphasis on “mercy, clemency and indulgence towards new unions.”
Finally, there is hope that the gatherings will expand on the document’s few mentions of the church’s need to look at itself, especially the scandals and clerics who live lavishly. It will be worth the discussion if it leads, as it should, to a deeper examination of that culture. In fact, the argument could be made that that discussion and examination is far more urgently needed than another set of documents trying to get married Catholics to follow all of the rules.

http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/editorial-obstacles-riddle-synod-familys-path

Rome, Marriage, Synod

Deadly shelling of another Gaza UN school draws condemnation, (7)

July 31st, 2014

31/7/14 United Nations

As another United Nations school serving as a shelter for Palestinians in Gaza was hit by shells this morning, killing children, senior UN officials strongly condemned the attacks and warned against the targeting of civilians.
“Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said immediately upon his arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica, for an official visit. “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice,” he added.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner General, Pierre Krähenbühl, echoed the condemnation calling the attack “an affront to all of us; a source of universal shame.”
According to an initial assessment, Israeli artillery on at least three occasions hit an UNRWA school where 3,300 people were seeking refuge. While the agency says it is too early to provide a death toll, there are at least 16 civilians believed to be dead, and several, including to women and children, and to UNRWA guards trying to protect the site.
“The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection,” Mr. Krähenbühl said, “the last being at ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.” “I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage,” he underscored.
Meanwhile in New York, speaking to reporters, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged those involved in the conflict to “put people first” and see the high price civilians are paying and the horror of what is happening. “To me, this is a moment when you really have to say ‘enough is enough’,” he declared. “You have to search for the right words to convince those who have the power to stop this.”
At least six UN staff members have been killed in Gaza since the latest conflict started, the Deputy UN chief said, visibly frustrated with reported criticism that the world body is not doing enough to stem the violence in the enclave. Since the start of the conflict more than 133 schools have been shelled or suffered collateral damage. He said UN legal advisors are discussing with Palestinian representatives an official request by President Mahmoud Abbas to place Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN.
Calling it a “sign of desperation,” Mr. Eliasson admitted that such a task is “not easy to think about” but noted UN involvement in East Timor and Kosovo as potential examples. In addition to condemning the artillery attacks from Israel, he noted the rockets into Israel and the attacks orchestrated through the tunnel networks.
Yesterday, UNRWA condemned the finding of more rockets in one of its schools, and announced an investigation.
Speaking to journalists alongside Mr. Eliasson, John Ging, Operations Director at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), clarified that the rockets found were in schools abandoned by the UN due to the intensity of the conflict in those areas, and thanks to the due diligence and the investigative approach taken by the UN. “When they are in control of the school they can [be assured] that it is free of weapons and no one with arms is allowed in the school,” Mr. Ging said.
Both militants and the Israeli Defense Forces had occupied those schools in the past, he added, “we deplore that but we cannot control” the schools when the UN is not physically present in the building.
On Tuesday, a compound housing the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was hit five times over a period of one hour, according to UN sources.
A preliminary investigation shows that there were also two projectiles that hit the ground just outside the compound. One of which is believed to have hit Gaza’s sole power plant. Pending a more formal investigation to ascertain the responsibilities for the shelling of its compound, UNSCO reminded the relevant parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect UN operations.
The Special Coordinator, Robert Serry, “is deeply concerned about this incident and other violations of United Nations premises during the conflict and condemns the loss of civilian lives, including United Nations personnel.”
Of the quarter million people displaced in Gaza, an estimated 204,000 are in 82 schools serving as UNRWA shelters, according to OCHA, the equivalent of 10 per cent of Gaza’s population. “Our capacity is stretched to the limit,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is providing emergency food assistance to 204,000 people, in addition to the regular food programmes, and shortages in the markets are reported. “Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, peoples’ needs will continue to grow,” Ms. Amos said, echoing calls for a ceasefire that would end the conflict. “Let’s put people first.”
In today’s press conference, Mr. Ging added that Gazans are gripped by “mortal fear” and are caught up in a “traumatic drama.” “They are being told to flee areas, get out of areas, but to where? Where should they flee? In the end, we don’t have the answer for them,” he said, adding that unlike in conflicts in other parts of the world, they population does not have an option of crossing borders.
He also reiterated the humanitarian challenges to providing aid, given that over 70 per cent of the people in Gaza are in need of steady assistance. Among the top priorities are shelter, food and water, and sanitation.
Today’s attack was also condemned by UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. “This attack emphasizes the urgent need for both parties to end the militarization of schools and to recognize that the violation of schools and schoolchildren is outlawed by the international community,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “Schools should not be targeted nor should weapons be stored in them,” he added. “We must protect these places of learning.”
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said in her condemnation that the situation is particularly worrying given the damage done to health facilities, which puts an additional strain on already limited resources to care for sick and injured children. “Rockets fired into Israel by Hamas have injured children and damaged schools. Israeli children also deserve to live in peace,” she added.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1407/S00341/deadly-shelling-of-another-gaza-un-school-draws-condemnation.htm

Israel, Palestine

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Murdering refugees in safe havens an Israeli forte, says MOH; (8)
30/7/14; Gaza Ministry of Health, Palestine

Murdering desperate families in safe havens is fast becoming Israel’s forte. UNRWA’s Abu Hussein Elementary Girls School in Jabalia, housing 3,300 displaced people, was struck last night killing 15 and injuring 90, bringing the number of UNRWA schools attacked by the Israeli military to six.
“The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times, to ensure its protection; the last being at ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said in a press statement today.
The dead and injured were protected persons – civilians asleep in a school, after being ordered to leave their homes by the Israeli army.
The dead and injured were in a protected place – a UN-designated shelter for displaced persons. The dead and injured were struck by at least three impacts – this was no ‘mistake’ but a deliberate series of attacks on a known civilian site. UNRWA has investigated the strikes, and identified the fragments: “Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school.”
As Gaza’s hospitals struggle to cope with the dead and injured, Palestinians are struggling to understand how the international community, especially the United Nations, can stand by as civilian massacre after civilian massacre is committed, even in UN premises, even in designated refugee shelters.
Palestinians, and people all around the world, are struggling to understand why the international community, especially the UN, has not taken any real action to curb the Israeli carnage.
The Ministry of Health Gaza expresses is total abhorrence of this latest Israeli attack, and the lack of meaningful action by the international community. We demand immediate international political and humanitarian action to end the rabid rampage by Israeli military forces throughout Gaza, to stem the tide of blood flowing in our homes, schools, hospitals and streets. Enough!

http://gaza.scoop.ps/2014/07/murdering-refugees-in-safe-havens-an-israeli-forte-says-moh

Israel, Palestine

Bloody mayhem at Gaza market as Israel observes ‘lull’. (6)

July 31st, 2014

31/11/14

At least 17 people were killed in an Israeli strike on a packed Gaza market in a raid that came as Israel observed a four-hour humanitarian lull in some sectors. Thick black smoke billowed over the site in the war-torn Shejaiya neighbourhood as at least five ambulances raced to the scene where bodies lay strewn on the ground, an AFP correspondent said.
At least 17 people were killed and 200 wounded in the strike, medics said, on a day that saw at least 110 people killed and the death toll from 23 days of unrelenting Israeli attacks soar to 1,360. Hamas said later it fired rockets at Tel Aviv and the southern port city of Ashkelon “in response to the Jabalia and Shejaiya massacres,” referring to the market and the earlier fatal shelling of a UN school in the north of the strip.
The Israeli military said that a rocket hit open ground “in the Tel Aviv area” and another two were intercepted over Ashkelon. It said that a total of 119 rockets fell in Israel on Tuesday, with another six shot down by missile defences.
It was supposed to have been a rare pause for Gaza’s battered population of 1.8 million to go out in safety to stock up on supplies, and for medics to evacuate the dead and wounded. Instead, there was further bloody mayhem with more than 30 people killed across Gaza in the first three hours of the lull alone.
Israel had said its truce, which began at 1200 GMT, would not apply in places were troops were “currently operating”, hours after the army made what it called a “significant advance” into the narrow coastal strip. Hamas denounced the four-hour lull as a publicity stunt, saying it had “no value”.
- Furious response -
The market strike came hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a UN school in Jabalia refugee camp which was sheltering some 3,300 homeless Gazans, killing 16 and drawing a furious response from the United Nations. “This morning a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on a visit to Costa Rica.
“It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.”
The attack was also denounced by the White House in a carefully worded statement that avoided mentioning Israel. “The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children, and UN humanitarian workers,” a statement said.
In Paris, a French presidency statement said President Francois Hollande agreed with Ban’s assessment of the attack as “unjustifiable”. Rights group Amnesty International urged Washington to halt arms supplies to Israel. “It is time for the US government to urgently suspend arms transfers to Israel and to push for a UN arms embargo on all parties to the conflict,” it said in a petition to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
- ‘End the carnage’ -
“They’re bombing houses, homes, schools — there’s no protection,” said Moin al-Athamna, who was at the school when the attack occurred.
It was the second time in a week that a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was hit, prompting a blistering attack on Israel by UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl. “I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces,” he said, indicating the school’s location had been communicated to the Israeli army 17 times. “No words to adequately express my anger and indignation,” he wrote on his official Twitter account, describing it as “intolerable”.
In Israel, the army said three soldiers were killed in Gaza, raising the overall number of soldiers killed to 56 since the operation began on July 8. Situated on the Mediterranean coast, flanking Israel and Egypt, the Gaza Strip covers an area of just 362 square kilometres (140 square miles). It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
- Israeli team in Cairo -
But there appeared to be no Israeli appetite for a truce, despite an hours-long meeting of the security cabinet, with a senior official telling Haaretz newspaper that the Jewish state was not even close to a ceasefire. “When a ceasefire proposal that answers Israel’s important needs is laid on the table, it will be considered,” he said, warning that the military operation would expand. “The Israel Defence Forces will expand attacks against Hamas and the rest of the terror organisations.”
Despite the rhetoric, a two-member Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo late Wednesday to discuss a possible ceasefire with Egyptian officials, an official at the airport told AFP, saying they were expected to leave after several hours. Cairo, a key mediator in previous truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24585584/bloody-mayhem-at-gaza-market-as-israel-observes-lull/

Israel, Palestine

Congress Warns Obama Not to Push Israel for Ceasefire (4)

July 31st, 2014

Jason Ditz, 29/7/14

Sen. Kirk: Worth Thousands of Lives to Wipe Out Hamas
Efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in Israel’s ongoing invasion of the Gaza Strip aren’t sitting well with Israeli hawks, and by extension that means they aren’t sitting well with the US Congress.
That’s got Congressional officials up in arms, pushing President Obama to stop trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict, and instead to endorse Israel’s war unconditionally, and irrespective of how bad it gets.
Underscoring just how far they’ll go, Sen. Mark Kirk (R – IL) insisted he was totally comfortable with Israel killing thousands of civilians in the current war if it meant wiping out Hamas, saying it was “worth it.”
Israel is already pushing up against 1,000 dead civilians in the ongoing war, and while they’re not even talking about the idea of wiping out Hamas, they are talking up a long war going forward, meaning Sen. Kirk might get his thousands of dead Gazans, albeit not with the elimination of Hamas to go along with it.

http://news.antiwar.com/2014/07/29/congress-warns-obama-not-to-push-israel-for-ceasefire/

Israel, Palestine

***
U.N. Aid Agency: Israeli Tank Shells Slam U.N. School, Killing 15, (5)
The Associated Press; Lefteris Pitarakis; 30/7/14

With displaced Palestinians still inside, a youth walks by the debris in a classroom at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, hit by an Israeli strike earlier Wednesday. Tank shells hit the school, where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge.
Israeli tank shells slammed into a crowded U.N. school Wednesday sheltering Gazans displaced by fighting, killing 15 and wounding 90 after tearing through the walls of two classrooms, a spokesman for a U.N. aid agency and a health official said.
The Israeli military said mortar shells had been fired from near the school, and that soldiers fired back. Israeli airstrikes and shelling also killed 40 Palestinians elsewhere in the coastal territory Wednesday, including multiple members of two families struck in their homes, health officials said.
The new violence further dimmed hopes of a cease-fire. The strike at the U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp came as part of Israel’s heaviest air and artillery assault in more than three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting.
The Israeli campaign escalated on Tuesday, with airstrikes destroying key symbols of Hamas power, including the home of the top Hamas leader. Gaza’s only power plant was shut down after shells set its fuel tank on fire. On Wednesday, Israeli aircraft struck dozens of Gaza sites, including five mosques it said were being used by militants, while several other areas came under tank fire.
In Jebaliya, tank shells hit the U.N. school before dawn, said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. The agency is sheltering more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting at dozens of U.N. schools across the coastal strip.
Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night. “We were scared to death,” he said. “After 4:30 a.m., tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school.”
“One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside,” he said. In one classroom, the front wall was blown out, leaving debris and bloodied clothing. Another strike tore a large round hole into the ceiling of a second-floor classroom. The wall of the lavatories was also damaged.
The Israeli military said it fired after its soldiers were targeted by mortars operating from the vicinity of the school. “In response, soldiers fired toward the origins of fire. And we’re still reviewing the incident,” the military said in a statement. About two hours after the strike, hundreds of people still crowded the school courtyard, some dazed, others wailing.
Aishe Abu Darabeh, 56, sat on the ground with her relatives. “Where will we go?” she asked. “Where will we go next? We fled and they (the Israelis) are following us.” Four of the dead were killed just outside the school compound, two in their home nearby and two in the street, after returning from pre-dawn prayers, their relatives said.
The bodies of two members of the al-Najar family, 56-year-old Shaher and his 41-year-old brother, Bassem, were laid out in one of the rooms of their small home, surrounded by wailing relatives. Outside the gate, another relative held on to his crying son, hugging him tight and saying: “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
Abu Hasna, the U.N. agency spokesman, said the international community must step in. “It’s the responsibility of the world to tell us what we shall do with more than 200,000 people who are inside our schools, thinking that the U.N. flag will protect them,” he said. “This incident today proves that no place is safe in Gaza.”
Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official, said at least 15 people were killed and about 90 wounded in the school strike. In all, 55 Palestinians were killed by airstrikes and tank shelling in different areas of Gaza on Wednesday, al-Kidra said.
In the southern town of Khan Younis, 10 members of one family were killed when an airstrike hit a relative’s home where they had sought refuge from the fighting, al-Kidra said. After the strike, relatives climbed over large piles of debris, surveying shattered windows and demolished walls.
“When the strike happened, I was sleeping, me and my brother and one of my relatives, we were sleeping. And we tried to look through the window to see what happened. But we couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. And when we came down, we saw everything was damaged,” said Mohammed al-Astal, a relative.
In the Gaza City neighborhood of Tufah, shelling killed at last seven members of another family, including four children, said Ayman Sahabani, the head of the emergency room at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.
The total number of Palestinians killed since the start of fighting July 8 rose to 1,284, al-Kidra said. In addition, more than 7,100 Palestinians have been wounded. Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians.
Israel has said its Gaza operation is meant to stop Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of Hamas military tunnels used for attacks in Israel. Gaza militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets toward Israel over the past three weeks, according to the Israeli army.
The Israeli military has said it is hitting targets linked to militants, such as rocket launching sites, weapon depots and Hamas military tunnels. Over the past 23 days, Israeli forces have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to the militants’ ability to launch rockets at Israel, a statement said.
The military has not provided details on strikes in which multiple members of one family were killed. There have been several dozen such strikes, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al- Mezan.
The military says Hamas militants often launch rockets from crowded residential areas, thus endangering nearby civilians. The army says it has also given civilians a chance to leave dangerous areas by sending warnings in phone calls and leaflets.
On Wednesday, aircraft dropped leaflets over Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood. The leaflets urged residents to stay away from Hamas militants and to report possible rocket launches. The leaflet gave a contact phone number and email.
“The Israeli Defense Forces are going into a new phase in the coming operation and does not want to harm civilians,” the leaflet said. “The army is warning residents in the areas where the operation will take place that for your safety, you have to keep away from terrorists and the locations from which they operate.”
Separately, Israeli troops in Gaza’s border areas are searching for Hamas military tunnels used for carrying out attacks in Israel. Israeli leaders have said troops would not leave until all the tunnels have been demolished. The army said 32 tunnels have so far been located but did not say how many remain. Since Tuesday morning, troops have demolished three more tunnels, a statement said.

http://www.npr.org/2014/07/30/336471812/israeli-tank-shells-slam-u-n-shelter-for-war-refugees-killing-15

Israel, Palestine

Palestine, War and the Lethal Role of Journalists (3)

July 31st, 2014

Two Films by John Pilger – by COUNTERPUNCH NEWSWIRE 28/7/14

John Pilger first made the film ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue‘ in 1977.
It told how almost a million Palestinians had been forced off their land in 1948, and again in 1967. Twenty five years later, in 2002, John Pilger returned to the West Bank of Jordan and Gaza, to make another film, giving it the same title.
The film asks why the Palestinians, whose right of return was affirmed by the United Nations more than half a century ago, are still caught in a terrible limbo – refugees in their own land, controlled by Israel in the longest military occupation in modern times.
“If we are to speak of the great injustice here, nothing has changed,” says Pilger at the start of the film, “What has changed is that the Palestinians have fought back. Stateless and humiliated for so long, they have risen up against Israel’s huge military regime, although they themselves have no army, no tanks, no American planes and gunships or missiles. Some have committed desperate acts of terror, like suicide bombing.
But, for Palestinians, the overriding, routine terror, day after day, has been the ruthless control of almost every aspect of their lives, as if they live in an open prison.
This film is about the Palestinians and a group of courageous Israelis united in the oldest human struggle, to be free.”Pilger distills the history of Palestine during the twentieth century into a comprehensible struggle for land – the theft of 78 per cent of that belonging to Palestinians when the state of Israel was founded in 1948.
This, and the campaign to eradicate the indigenous population — exemplified by the current Israeli assault on Gaza –are still the issue.
‘The War You Don’t See’ (2011) is a timely investigation into the media’s role in war, tracing the history of ‘embedded’ and independent reporting from the carnage of World War One to the destruction of Hiroshima, and from the invasion of Vietnam to the reporting of Palestine.
“We journalists,” says Pilger in the film, “are only real journalists if we defy those who seek our collusion in selling their latest bloody adventure in someone else’s country.
For propaganda relies on us in the media to aim its deceptions not at a far away country but at you at home… In this age of endless imperial war, the lives of countless men, women and children depend on the truth or their blood is on us.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/28/palestine-war-and-the-lethal-role-of-journalists/; Orwell alive in Palestine, Ukraine; By John Pilger; http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-220714.html

Israel, Palestine

Gaza’s resistance will not be crushed (2)

July 31st, 2014

By Ramzy Baroud Jul 28, ’14

Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” has brought stories of entire families collectively pulverized and women and children keenly targeted by Israeli soldiers. By the end of July 24, more than 760 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, and at least 32 Israel soldiers been killed in 17 days of fighting.
The destruction is overwhelming, and everywhere Palestinians lament there is nowhere that is safe. Regardless, resolve is strong and the people of Gaza will not resign themselves to surrender.
The resistance movement in Gaza is often misrepresented intentionally, and at other times innocuously. In the heat of the information battle that has ensued since Israel unleashed its latest war many facts and essential context have gone missing.
Historically, Gaza has been a hub for uninterrupted popular resistance since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine at the hands of Zionist militias, and later the Israeli army, in 1947-48. An estimated 200,000 of Palestine’s then nearly 800,000 refugees were forced there, with most enduring squalid and humiliating conditions.
Despite the shock of war and the humiliation of defeat, Gazans fought back almost immediately. There was no Fatah, no Hamas, and no siege – in comparison to its current definition – and Gazans didn’t organize around any political factions, or ideologies. Rather they assembled in small groups known to Gazans as Fedayeen – freedom fighters.
These were dispossessed refugees still unaware of the complexity of their political surroundings, and the Fedayeen were mostly young Palestinian refugees fighting to return to their home. But their operations grew bolder day by day. They would sneak back into their towns – which eventually became part of Israel – with primitive weapons and homemade bombs. They would kill Israeli soldiers, steal their weapons and return with the new weapons the second night.
Some would secretly go back to their villages in Palestine to “steal” food, blankets and whatever money they had failed to retrieve in the rush of war. Those who never returned received the funerals of martyrs, with thousands of fellow refugees marching with symbolic coffins to graveyards. Hundreds never returned and few bodies were ever recovered. Following every Fedayeen strike, the Israeli army would hit back at Gaza’s refugees, inspiring yet more support and recruits for the growing commando movement.
The prowess of those young refugee fighters was on full display in November 1956, when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and large swathes of Sinai following the Suez Crisis. Egyptians fought the Israeli army with much courage, but the Palestinian garrison based in Khan Younis – now a major target in the latest Israeli war – refused to surrender.
When the fighting was over, Israel moved into Khan Younis and carried out what is now etched in the Palestinian collective memory as one of the most horrific mass killings in Gaza’s history – a massacre of 124 men and boys in the Rafah refugee camp known as al-Amiriyah School Massacre
“The victims were herded into the school under the batons of the soldiers,” Dr Ahmed Yousef reflected in a recent article. “Those who survived the beatings were met with a hail of bullets and the demolition of the building over their heads. The bloodstains stayed on the school walls for years to remind us children of Israel’s crime.”
Yousef, then a child in a brutalized Rafah, would later become a top adviser to Hamas’ first prime minister, Ismael Haniyeh, in Gaza. His article, originally published in Arabic, was entitled: “The resistance will not surrender… we will be victorious or die.”
- Are there any surprises in how the past is knitted both to Gaza’s present and future?
It should also be of no surprise that Palestine’s mightiest resistance today, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was formed by a small group of school kids in the central Gaza Strip.
These were poor refugees who grew up witnessing the brutality of the occupation, and the abuse it invited into their daily lives. (The group adopted the name of Izz al-Din al-Qassam, an Arab preacher who fought British colonialism and the Zionist forces until he was killed by British forces in a Jenin orchard in 1935.)
The first young men who started al-Qassam were all killed shortly after the inception of their group. But what they started has since become a massive movement of thousands of fighting men and woman which, as this article was being written, were keeping Israeli forces in northern Gaza at bay.
Resistance in Gaza, as in any historical inevitability, can never be interrupted. Successive Israeli governments have tried extreme measures for decades before the so-called Operation Cast Lead of 2008-9.
After the 1967 war, Ariel Sharon was entrusted with the bloody task of “pacifying” the headstrong Strip. Then the head of Israel’s Defense Forces’ southern command, he was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for good reason.
Sharon understood that pacifying Gaza would require heavy armored vehicles, since Gaza’s crowded neighborhoods and alleyways weaving through its destitute refugee camps were not suited for heavy machinery. So he bulldozed homes, thousands of them, to pave the way so that tanks and yet more bulldozers could move in and topple more homes.
Modest estimates put the number of houses destroyed in August 1970 alone at 2,000. Over 16,000 Palestinians were made homeless, with thousands forced to relocate from one refugee camp into another.
The Beach Refugee Camp near Gaza City sustained most of the damage, with many fleeing for their lives and taking refuge in mosques and UN schools and tents. Sharon’s declared objective was targeting “terrorist infrastructure”. What he in fact meant to do was target the very population that resisted and aided the resistance.
Past and present intertwined Indeed, they were the very infrastructure he harshly pounded for many days and weeks. Sharon’s bloody sweep also resulted in the execution of 104 resistance fighters and the deportation of hundreds of others, some to Jordan and others to Lebanon. The rest were simply left to rot in the Sinai desert.
It is the same “terrorist infrastructure” that Sharon’s follower, Benjamin Netanyahu, is seeking to destroy by using the same tactics of collective punishment and applying the same language and media talking points.
In Gaza, the past and the present are intertwined. Israel is united by the same purpose: crushing anyone who dares to resist. Palestinians in Gaza are also united with a common threat: their resistance, which, despite impossible odds seems likely to intensify.
Just by taking a quick glance at the history of this protracted war – the refugees versus the Middle East’s “strongest army” – one can say with a great degree of conviction that Israel cannot possibly subdue Gaza. You may call that a historical inevitability as well.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-02-280714.html; Ramzy Baroud is the managing editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

Israel, Palestine

Why no Arab state cries for Gaza (1)

July 31st, 2014

Ehsan Ahrari; 28/7/12

Israel’s use of “made-in-the-USA” death machines over the skies and on the ground of Gaza are raining hellfire on its civilian population, especially its women, children, and elders. No Arab State has had the guts to denounce that brutality.
Only the newly elected Pharaoh of Egypt, Fattah al-Sisi, has spoken out on the issue, but only to manifest his utter contempt for the Islamic Brotherhood of Egypt by condemning Hamas for its brutal firing of rockets on Israel and to beseech it to arrange a ceasefire. However, Hamas was not interested in a ceasefire that did not also end the Israeli embargo. Egypt could have negotiated that concession from the Israelis, but it did not. It only wanted to play a symbolic role to appease its US paymaster’s crony, Israel.
Needless to say, Hamas, along with Israel, is very much part of these mindless cycles of violence and counter-violence. When anyone attempts to sort out the cause and effect of these recurring rounds of violence, which invariably results in the death of hundreds of Palestinians and a few Israelis, one is faced with the ugly reality of being depicted as an anti-Semite if he/she is critical of Israel.
But here is some food for thought for those who so boldly belittle the critics of Israeli policies toward occupied Palestine. There are no scales of objectivity for condemning the contemptuous behavior of the occupied ones toward the occupiers. No scales of neutrality are available to determine culpability of violent and counter-violent acts, without blaming both of them. There is no moral equivalence here, because the occupied ones never voted to be in that role. They did not have a choice but to manifest their acute hatred of the occupation and the occupier, while the occupier does have a choice. It could simply withdraw from that reprehensible role after establishing reasonable parameters of its security.
Every time war breaks out in or around occupied Palestine, the US, unabashedly, sides with Israel. The so-called “exceptional” country ignores its otherwise vociferous and verbose commitment to the laws of wars that guarantee the well-being of unarmed civilians. Israel’s “usual” response to the charges of high civilian casualties on the Palestinian side is to blame Hamas for its so-called “use the civilians as human shields”.
No one seems to remember that the territory of Gaza is too small to bear the brunt of violence and counter-violence from both sides. The citizens of that territory have simply no place to hide from the incessant torrents of Israeli rockets and bombs dropped from the American-made F-16s.
The chief “crime” of the Gazans is that they have no powerful constituency inside the United States to condemn their many deaths. The United States does not know it (and would even categorically reject it), but every round of violence in occupied Palestine also inexorably edges America closer to endorsing the inhumanity related to Israel’s continued occupation and its correlated endless perpetuation of the death of innocent civilians, especially the children.
The support for Israel inside the United States is such that no sitting US president dares to criticize its war-related actions with the use of American-supplied weapons, which, in itself, is a gross violation of American law. With strong domestic support for Israel inside the United States, and with an unflinching, uninterrupted, and unconditional economic and military support of it, the Jewish state has no palpable reason to pull back from the occupied territories and allow the establishment of a respectable state of “free” Palestine.
Regarding the Palestinian conflict, one is struck by the rude awakening that there is no such thing as the so-called “international community” or its role as a moral global force. It only exists in the rhetoric of the Western media when the interests or proclivities of the United States’ highly visible issues are violated by one or more non-Western actor.
The word “international community” only starts to pop up during discussions among Western talking heads whose fleeting “expertise” on various issues struggles to keep up with fast-changing headlines. Otherwise, the masses of the Third World are either only silent observers or indulgers of feeble protest gatherings in their reaction to the issues of brutality perpetrated on civilians, whether by an occupying entity like Israel, Russia (in Ukraine), or by other non-state actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or al-Qaeda.
In almost every single instance involving occupation, the occupying power is either part of the West or there is profound sympathy for it in the West. The West’s erstwhile bemoaning about the violation of international law is shelved in the pursuit of expediency. That may be one reason why world opinion (not just opinion in the West) was not appalled when Russia annexed Crimea or when the Russian-backed terrorists started a secessionist campaign in the western part of Ukraine. Non-Western public opinion has been too accustomed to Western duplicity.
- Why aren’t the Arab States making any hue and cry against the Israeli rain of death on the Gazans?
For a clear understanding, one has to examine the political realities of the Arab region in the post-Arab Spring era. As the Arab Spring turned into Arab autumn in 2013-2014, the autocrats of the Middle East were left with virtually little doubt that their days are numbered. Thus, they are doing everything feasible to shore-up their respective rules.
The Arab autocrats have also concluded, quite correctly, that the post-Arab Spring era has also resulted in a serious loss of power and prestige by the United States. In fact, their perception of the United States is that it is a declining hegemon, which is striving to sustain the pretensions of being a superpower.
Considering that the Arab autocrats view the entire world through the prism of how new global events might affect the durability of their regimes, they have concluded that they should do very little to encourage events that would further diminish the chances of further erosion of US power in their region. And a possible victory (even a symbolic one) of Hamas over Israel at the end of the current war would also have its own palpable deleterious effects on the prestige of the United States, the sole supporter of the autocratic regional order in the Arab world.
What those despots might not know – or they do know but are too timid to ‘fess up to the reality – is that the unjust regional order of the Middle East may also be edging toward a rapid and abrupt collapse, notwithstanding the military prowess of the United States and Israel to forestall such a calamity. After all, no one predicted the sudden implosion of the former Soviet Union in 1991 or the onslaught of the Arab Awakening in 2010.
In a maddening impulse to take revenge, the perpetrators of violence against a weak opponent not only cause countless deaths on the weak side, but, in the process, the strong side also loses its own humanity, its claim to be abiding by the international laws, and its commitment to human rights.
Just because Israel has not yet experienced the aforementioned effects does not mean it should continue its current disproportionate use of violence against the citizens of Gaza. For Hamas, there is no price is too precious for the fulfillment of its dream to be free. However, in that pursuit, it should do everything to prevent its own transformation into a mindless death-creating machine.
In all likelihood, both Hamas and Israel are likely to reject these words as a mere expression of this writer’s partisanship. But if this writer has a bias toward anything, it is about the emergence of a framework for peace, both for the Palestinians and for the Israelis to live side by side without fear of one side becoming a hegemon or a secret aspirer to annihilate the other.
It is clearer than ever that the US is not capable of playing the role of an honest broker, and the Arab autocrats are too scared for the survival of their regimes to proffer any daring and thoughtful proposals to resolve the Palestinian conflict.
In the final analysis, a solution has to appear from within Israel/Gaza. Unless that happens, the race for escalated violence is likely to be between the two partisans of that conflict. Human blood continues to be spilled, while no one is willing to accept culpability for any violent act.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-280714.html – Dr Ehsan Ahrari ([email protected]) is CEO of Strategic Paradigms, Defense and Foreign Affairs Consultancy.

Israel, Palestine

Plan to load coal ships at sea in middle of Great Barrier Reef risks damage to reef, says UNESCO

July 31st, 2014

Mark Willacy 29/7/14

A plan to load coal ships in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef raises the risk of collisions and damage to the reef, says the United Nations’ peak scientific and cultural body. UNESCO has told the ABC that a proposal for ship-to-ship movement of coal, currently before the Federal Environment Department, could be referred to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
In an interview with the ABC in Paris, UNESCO’s co-ordinator of the World Heritage Centre Marine program, Fanny Douvere, raised concerns about a plan by Queensland company Mitchell Ports to operate coal barges, trans-shipper loaders and large ships in the World Heritage area.
“It is common sense that when there are more ships passing through a particular area that there is more potential for more damage to the reef,” she said. “There is also more potential for collisions. So whenever any activity will impact, or could impact potentially on those exceptional values for which it is inscribed on the World Heritage list, then it needs to be raised. “Those issues need to be addressed and it is our role as UNESCO, as a standard-setting organisation, to raise those issues with the government.”
Ship-to-ship coal loading proposed in waters off Mackay
Mitchell Ports has applied to the Federal Department of Environment for approval to use barges to transport coal off Hay Point south of Mackay. The company argues that ship-to-ship coal loading in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park would be better for the environment than seabed dredging of ports, which a recent study found can more than double the level of coral disease in reefs.
But conservationists and the Greens fear that trans-shipping could damage the reef and marine species in other ways. “Increased ship traffic increases the risk of ship accidents and spillages of coal dust into the marine environment, and there’s been some work done showing we already have very high levels of toxic coal dust because of the existing port facilities here,” said Ellen Roberts from the Mackay Conservation Group.
“There are a lot of dugongs in the area. Turtles, humpback whales will be disturbed by that increased shipping, the noise and the light. So we think there’s a host of environmental problems and impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”
Greens environment spokesperson Larissa Waters said trans-shipping was “not safe” in the marine environment. “You can’t simply load one ship from another and be able to contain the dust that will blow off and smother corals and seagrasses below the surface,” she said. “The World Heritage Committee has warned against trans-shipping in the Fitzroy Basin further south, and I think that’s the right call.”
Project will operate 24/7 if weather permits
In its submission to the Environment Department, Mitchell Ports states that the project “will be capable of operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week taking into account climatic limitations such as cyclones”. Barges would dock with a so-called trans-shipper anchored in the World Heritage area, which would then use enclosed buckets and covered conveyors to load the coal onto a waiting ship.
The project would be constructed in stages, beginning by loading up to 15 million tonnes a year from 2018, before growing to 30 million tonnes if there was market demand.
Mitchell Ports’ submission to the department concedes there could be impacts. “There are Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) within the proposed project area including the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and National Heritage Place, listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species, and listed marine species,” it states. “The proposed action is expected to result in minimal impact on MNES.”
If approved, the proposal would also see coal conveyors and a terminal built on the southern side of Hay Point. Fishermen are also concerned about the trans-shipping proposal. “The main concern is they may put an exclusion zone around the whole area,” explained David Caracciolo from Mackay Reef Fish Supplies. “If that happens it will stop all the prawn trawling fleet from working that area which produces probably 90 per cent of Mackay’s king prawn [output].”
The ABC had arranged an interview about the proposal with Mitchell Ports executive director Ben King, but a few hours before the scheduled interview he called to cancel.
The Federal Environment Department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will make an initial assessment of the project. If, as expected, the project is likely to impact on “matters of national environmental significance”, the project can only proceed with the approval of the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and if the Marine Park Authority grants a permit.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24578160/plan-to-load-coal-ships-at-sea-in-middle-of-great-barrier-reef-risks-damage-to-reef-says-unesco/

Australia, Environment

Israeli bombs rain on Gaza (6)

July 31st, 2014

30/07/14

Smoke and flames soar after what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in the east of Gaza City on July 29. The death toll from the conflict has climbed passed 1200. Israel has unleashed its heaviest bombardment in a 3-week-old war against Hamas, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant.
The fighting came as diplomatic efforts to forge a truce remained stalled despite a death toll that Palestinian officials said rose above 1200 on Tuesday (local time). The shadowy leader of the Hamas military wing said his group will not cease fire until its demands are met.
On Tuesday evening, residents of the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza reported intense tank shelling. Ten members of an extended family were killed and 50 other people wounded in the area, Palestinian health officials said. Two brothers driving in a car with markings of a UN aid agency were killed by shrapnel, an area resident said.
“It was like an earthquake,” Moussa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defence, said of the scene. “Roofs collapsed, walls cracked and wounded people everywhere.”
The heavy strikes – which came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a “prolonged” campaign against Hamas – were a new blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce in the fighting.
Israel has vowed to stop the Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels that have been used by the militants to infiltrate the Jewish state. For its part, Hamas has so far rejected cease-fire efforts unless its demands are met, including a lifting of a punishing blockade.
The rare remarks by the Hamas military wing’s leader, Mohammed Deif, were broadcast late on Tuesday on Al-Aqsa TV, the satellite station of Hamas. “There is not going to be a ceasefire as long as the demands of our people are not fulfilled,” he said. Deif’s voice was recognisable in the audio statement. He has survived repeated Israeli assassination attempts and has operated from hiding for years.

Al-Aqsa also broadcast a videotape it said showed an infiltration by Hamas fighters into Israel on Monday through a border tunnel. At least 1210 Palestinians have been killed, including 109 on Tuesday, and 7000 wounded since the start of fighting July 8, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. He said 16 other people died of wounds sustained on previous days.
The dead included multiple members of at least five families who were pulled from the rubble Tuesday after airstrikes and tank shelling struck their homes, including the mayor of a refugee camp and his 70-year-old father, according to Palestinian health officials and the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Israel has reported 53 soldiers and three civilians killed.
Already, the intensity and the scope of the current Gaza operation is on par with an invasion five years ago, which ended with Israel unilaterally withdrawing after hitting Hamas hard.
On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of attacks, levelling the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and damaging the offices of the movement’s Al-Aqsa satellite TV station, a central mosque in Gaza City and government offices.
Haniyeh’s house, in a narrow alley of the Shati refugee camp, was reduced to rubble but no one was hurt. Residents placed a large framed portrait of Haniyeh atop the wreckage and draped it with green Hamas flags and Palestinian national banners.
Israel has targeted several homes of Hamas leaders but none has been killed – presumably because they have kept a low profile. Haniyeh said in a statement Tuesday that “destroying stones will not break our determination”.
The scene at the Gaza power plant after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks was daunting and thick black smoke rose into the sky for hours. The station’s shutdown further disrupted the supply of electricity and water to the 1.7 million people packed into the narrow Palestinian coastal territory.
“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority. “Everything was burned.”
He said crew members who had been trapped by the fire for several hours were evacuated.
Even before the shutdown, Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines. Most of the power lines from Israel that provided electricity for payment were previously damaged in the fighting. This means most of Gaza will now be without power. The lack of electricity will also affect water supplies, since power is needed to operate water pumps.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not comment on the explosion at the plant, but told The Associated Press that Israel’s latest strikes signal “a gradual increase in the pressure” on Hamas. Israel is “determined to strike this organisation and relieve us of this threat”, Lerner said.
International calls for an unconditional ceasefire have been mounting in recent days, as the extent of the destruction in Gaza became more apparent. The house of the mayor of the Bureij in central Gaza was hit in an airstrike, and five bodies were pulled from the rubble, the Red Crescent said. Those killed included the mayor, 50-year-old Anas Abu Shamaleh, his 70-year-old father and three relatives.
In the southern town of Rafah, seven members of one family were killed in an airstrike and seven members of a second family were killed when tank shells hit their home, according to the Rafah office of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which keeps a casualty count.
In central Gaza, seven people, including five members of one family, were killed by tank shelling on a home, the Red Crescent said. Tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border areas, which have come under heavy tank fire.
In the West Bank, Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called for a 24-hour cease-fire and said the offer was made after consultations with Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group. However, Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official in exile, said his group wanted to hear from Israel first.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined comment.
The largest group in the PLO is the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival. Hamas is not a member. Despite appeals for a cease-fire, both sides have been holding out for bigger gains.
Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until it wins international guarantees that a crippling border blockade of Gaza will be lifted. Israel and Egypt had imposed the closure after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, defeating forces loyal to Abbas. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, shutting down hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that had provide crucial tax income to Hamas. The closure of the tunnels drove Hamas into a severe financial crisis.
Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Israel said its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished the tunnels which have been used by Hamas to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks.
The military said Palestinian militants fired at least 64 rockets Tuesday at Israeli cities. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency for Palestinians said it found a cache of rockets hidden inside of one of its schools. It said the school was closed for the summer and was not being used as a shelter.
“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school”, agency spokesman Chris Gunness said. “This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises.” It marked the third time since the Gaza war began that the UN found weapons hidden in one of its schools.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/10327295/Israeli-bombs-rain-on-Gaza/ AP;
Israel, Palestine

Israelis told to expect a ‘lengthy campaign’(5)

July 31st, 2014

Telegraph; 30/7/14

Israeli aircraft, tanks and gunboats pounded symbols of Hamas control in Gaza City in the heaviest night of bombardment in three weeks of fighting. The strikes hit the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as well as government offices and the headquarters of the Hamas satellite TV station. Haniyeh was not hurt.
The escalation occurred as Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly rebuffed international pressure for a ceasefire and instead promised to extend Israel’s three-week offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers into a lengthy campaign that would bring more difficult days.
The Israeli Prime Minister said the military campaign in Gaza would not end until a network of tunnels Israel says have been dug to launch attacks against its citizens had been destroyed.
His unyielding stance came after yet another attempted truce collapsed amid renewed bloodshed that saw the deaths of at least eight Palestinian children and 10 Israeli soldiers.
“We must be prepared for a lengthy campaign,” Netanyahu said in a nationwide television broadcast. “Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels – death from above and from below. We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels whose sole purpose is killing our citizens.”
He stopped short of pledging to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza – a goal supported by about 69 per cent of Israeli voters, according to one poll. But the promise of a protracted offensive means the current campaign will almost certainly surpass the length of the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead, which lasted three weeks and exposed Israel to fierce international criticism.
It also raises the prospect of an even greater number of dead on both sides if Israeli forces attempt to penetrate deeper into Gaza and away from the border areas where their ground offensive has been concentrated. As he spoke, the military sent messages to thousands of Palestinians in Shejaiya, Zeitun, Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanun warning them to evacuate their homes.
United Nations refugee agencies said shelter facilities were already stretched to breaking point. Some 170,000 – or 10 per cent of Gaza’s population – have already sought refuge in UN shelters after being displaced from their homes by the conflict.
Shortly afterwards, the skies over Gaza lit up with flashes as the army began a wave of air strikes and heavy shelling that left 26 Palestinians dead, reporters and medics said. Israel had stated five of its soldiers were killed yesterday, but updated that to 10, saying five of the soldiers died in clashes with a Palestinian commando who had tried to reach Israel through a tunnel at Nahal Oz.
Eight rockets were also fired at Israel, with two hitting the ground near Rishon LeZion, 10km south of Tel Aviv.
AP, AFP; Daily Telegraph UK; http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11301070
Israel, Palestine

Gaza doctors save baby from her dead mother’s womb (2)

July 31st, 2014

29/7/14,
Bloodshed in and around Gaza surged Monday with a strike killing eight Palestinian children and a mortar shell leaving dead four in Israel, shattering hopes for an end to three weeks of devastating violence.
It was a bloody start to the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr which began on Monday, with international demands for an end to the fighting falling on increasingly deaf ears. “In the name of humanity, the violence must stop,” pleaded UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after holding long talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to “stop the violence” and heed international calls for a ceasefire.
But Netanyahu appeared determined to press the offensive. “We must be prepared for a lengthy campaign,” he said in a live broadcast after a mortar attack killed four people in southern Israel, and troops fought a gun battle with Palestinian militants who sneaked across the border. We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels whose sole purpose is killing our citizens.”
As he spoke, the military sent messages to thousands of Palestinians in Shejaiya, Zeitun, Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanun, urging them to flee their homes and seek shelter in central Gaza City as troops prepared to step up their 21-day campaign. Shortly afterwards, the cloudy skies over Gaza lit up with flashes as the army began an intensive wave of air strikes and heavy shelling across the strip, AFP correspondents said.
Medics said 10 people were killed in the first wave of strikes, among them three children who died with two adults when a shell hit a house in the northern town of Jabaliya, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. Another five died in a strike on Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, taking to at least 29 the number of killed on Monday, and 1,067 in the 21 days of violence.
- Calm before the storm -
Monday had started with a deceptive air of calm in and around Gaza following a quiet second night in which both sides appeared to be observing an undeclared ceasefire. Despite the lull, there was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day Eid holiday got under way, with families quickly leaving the mosque after prayers to head straight home or to pay their respects to the dead. “This is the Eid of the martyrs,” said Ahed Shamali mourning the death of his 16-year-old son.
But tensions rose sharply after medics said a shell had struck a building inside the Shifa hospital compound in Gaza City, which was quickly followed by reports of a blast hitting a children’s playground in a beachside refugee camp, which left 10 dead, eight of them children.
The Israeli army categorically denied it had fired at either the hospital or the camp. Residents in the Shati camp said an F-16 firing several missiles at a motorised rickshaw, with medics confirming 10 dead with another 46 injured, including many children.
Near the site of the blast, women wailed and men screamed in anguish in scenes of utter confusion and distress, an AFP correspondent said. But the army denied any involvement, blaming errant rocket fire by Palestinian militants.
“We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp,” Major Arye Shalicar told AFP, saying the only drones used near Shifa were not equipped with missiles. “We know that Hamas was firing from both areas and the missiles struck these places,” he said, adding that 200 missiles fired at Israel had fallen short and landed inside Gaza in the past three weeks.
- Mortar shell kills 4 Israelis -
Shortly afterwards, a mortar shell struck southern Israel, killing four soldiers near a kibbutz opposite Gaza City, the army said.
Media reports said another dozen people were wounded in the strike but it was not immediately clear if they were soldiers or civilians in an attack claimed by Hamas militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which said it was revenge for the deaths in Shati camp.
Around the same time, troops in nearby area of southern Israel fought a gun battle with a group of militants who emerged from a cross-border tunnel close to a kibbutz, killing one of the gunmen, the army said. That attack was also claimed by Hamas, which said its militants had carried out an “operation behind enemy lines,” claiming they had killed a large number of soldiers.
As the violence soared, top diplomats from Washington, Britain, France, Germany and Italy pledged to step up the pressure to force the sides to accept a truce, with statement from the French presidency saying they had “agreed to redouble their efforts to obtain a ceasefire. “Pressure must increase to get there,” it said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said any lasting truce must ensure the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups, with parties working together on the basis of an Egyptian ceasefire initiative. And Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was expected to visit Cairo with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for fresh talks with the Egyptians on ending the violence in Gaza, a senior source in Ramallah told
AFP. https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24570831/violence-soars-in-gaza-as-world-pleads-for-truce/
Israel, Palestine
***
Gaza’s Christians bury their first casualty of the war (4)

28/7/14

Jalila Ayyad’s widower George still had a black eye and bloodstains on his shirt as he processed ahead of her coffin, hours after the air strike that destroyed their home. Jalila, 60, was the first Christian casualty of a bloody Gaza war. She is also survived by two sons, but one could not be at her funeral because he is in hospital with serious wounds suffered in Sunday afternoon’s Israeli strike.
The simple coffin — white with a black cross — was carried reverently down the marble stairs of the cemetery, and into the chapel of the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City. “She died under the rubble,” said Jalila’s nephew, Fuad Ayyad. “Both her legs were crushed after the house collapsed with her, her husband and son inside.”
An Orthodox priest in a black gown read passages from the Bible and swung an incense receptacle, as the coffin was set down beneath an ornate ceiling of gold leaf images of saints, their names written in Arabic and Greek. An icon of the Virgin Mary was placed upon Jalila’s coffin, and some two dozen relatives sang “Hallelujah” as the afternoon call to prayer rose from the minaret of the adjacent mosque.
Her funeral was a sombre and respectful affair, but momentarily took on a political dimension when one member of the parish picked up a microphone and railed against Israel’s bombardment of the small Palestinian coastal territory.
“This Palestinian Arab Christian woman died in shelling by the Israeli occupation,” the speaker shouted angrily. “There are massacres here every day. This is what happens to the Palestinian people.
- Where’s the world, where’s the international community in all this?”
“The bombs hit and kill — they don’t discriminate between civilian or militant,” he said.
- Dwindling Christian community -
A relative, George Ayyad, agreed wholeheartedly. He dismissed the idea that Jalila’s death would force more of the already dwindling Christian population out of Gaza. “If we leave, that’s exactly what the Israelis want. Anyway, where are we supposed to go? This is my homeland,” he said. “We Christians have been in Gaza for more than 1,000 years, and we’re staying.” Her nephew Fuad was not so sure. “Things like this make me want to just get out of here,” he said.
Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500, most of them Greek Orthodox, out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million in the densely packed enclave. The Christian community in Gaza City, like its counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking because of both conflict and unemployment.
The ancient Mediterranean seafront city once had a thriving Christian community, especially under British-mandated Palestine that ended in 1948 with the creation of the Jewish state. Jalila’s coffin was carried into the small church cemetery, which was itself hit by an Israeli shell earlier in the week, and lowered into the ground.
The community’s first casualty was born in Jerusalem and also had French nationality, the family said.
The latest Gaza conflict began on July 8 when Israel launched a military operation aimed at stamping out rocket fire from the Strip and also at destroying Hamas tunnels used to launch attacks inside the Jewish state. The war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, most of them civilians including a large number of women and children, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel. “Today… another human being, an innocent one, has lost her life,” Archbishop Alexios said.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24565764/gazas-christians-bury-their-first-casualty-of-the-war/ine

Israel, Palestine

Children and old men ‘cut to pieces’ by explosion (1)

July 31st, 2014

Gaza, David Blair in Beach refugee camp; 30/7/1

Gaza refugee camp bombing shocks even hardened bystanders. It was as the children played and the old men watched that the weapon fell from the sky and exploded in their midst. In an instant, the eight youngsters and the two men were eviscerated. Even by the standards of the 22-day trial of strength between Israel and Hamas, their deaths stood out.
In the moments that followed, hundreds of angry and grief-stricken people gathered on the scene in Beach refugee camp, one of Gaza’s most crowded and impoverished areas.

Where the old men had been sitting, there were only scorched and blackened sandals and a spreading pool of blood. Where the children had been playing, there were more bloodstains and their own small items of footwear.
Among the human residue lay a black bucket, perforated by shrapnel, and an old broom, its bristles still smouldering. Nearby, a parked car had been wrecked, with every window shattered and its bodywork riddled by shrapnel.
Much the same had happened to the buildings closest to where the children and the old men had died: these apartment blocks displayed gaping windows and pockmarked walls.
“We ordered the children to play here, in front of our eyes, so they would avoid the bombing,” said Nidal Al-Darby, who lives nearby. “And then this happened to them.”
Until a few minutes before the explosion, Darby had been in the street himself. Then he went to join the afternoon “Asr” prayer at the nearby mosque. But for this, he too would have been killed. As it turned out, his shirt and trousers were stained with the blood of the casualties he had tried to help. “The children were just cut to pieces,” he said simply. “So were the old men. When I came here, one of them had lost his head.”
The festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, began yesterday. Traditionally, this is a time when Muslims exchange greetings and sweets, children play in the streets and old men laze outside their front doors.
After this incident in Beach camp, people wept freely and a crowd chanting “Allahu Akbar” – or “God is Great” – carried the coffin of one of the dead along the street.
Mahmoud Hammo, 19, rushed to the scene immediately after the explosion. “I picked up pieces of bodies: they were all lying on top of each other. There were legs cut off, arms cut off. One of the children had been decapitated,” he said. Mohammed Ahal, another witness who works as a medical technologist and is used to seeing dead and wounded human beings, said: “Look, I work in a hospital. But I was shocked. Shocked. And the women, some of them were unconscious from the shock of seeing what happened here.”
All three witnesses were convinced that an Israeli drone had fired the fatal missile. The drones circle above Gaza constantly: at any one time, six or seven can be counted buzzing overhead. They routinely launch missiles designed to kill groups of people in narrow alleyways. In the middle of the street, a shallow crater showed the weapon’s point of impact.
However, Israel adamantly denied responsibility and suggested that a misfiring rocket launched by Hamas had caused the explosion.
Colonel Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces, said: “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short.”
Minutes before the blast in Beach camp, another projectile exploded near an outbuilding in the grounds of Shifa Hospital, the biggest medical facility in Gaza, which is also home to hundreds of refugees. This strike, which appeared to have inflicted no casualties, was also caused by a Hamas rocket, Lerner said.
There is no doubt that Hamas missiles do misfire and fall short. Last week, one rocket took off in a northerly direction before suddenly veering westwards and then hurtling into the sea, a few hundred metres from Gaza’s coast. But if a rocket did cause the Beach camp tragedy, that raises the question of what happened to the remains of the projectile. After landing in Israel, many rockets have been preserved and placed on display to show the reality of the threat posed by Hamas. There was no sign of a rocket – or of its remains – in the street where the children died.
- Daily Telegraph UK; http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11301069
Israel, Pa;estine
***

Pope has casual Q&A with priests of Caserta

July 31st, 2014

29/7/14 Vatican Radio

Pope Francis met with the priests of the Diocese of Caserta on his visit there on Saturday afternoon. The Pope engaged in a question-and-answer period with the priests in the Palatina della Reggia di Caserta Chapel. The Vatican Radio translation … is offered below.
Q: Your linguistic, semantic, cultural revolution, your evangelical witness is stirring an existential crisis for us priests. What imaginative and creative ways do you suggest for us to overcome or at least to mitigate this crisis that we perceive? Thank you.
Pope Francis: Here you are. How is it possible, with the Church growing and developing, to move forward? …the commandment God gave to Adam, “Go and multiply. Be creative. “It is also the commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples, through the Holy Spirit, for example, the creativity of the early Church in its relations with Judaism: Paul was creative; Peter, that day when he went to Cornelius, was afraid of them, because he was doing something new, something creative. But he went there. Creativity is the word.
And how can you find this creativity? First of all … there’s no other way than prayer. A bishop who does not pray, a priest who does not pray has closed the door, closed the way of creativity. It is exactly in prayer, when the Spirit makes you feel something,… prayer is the condition for moving forward. Even if prayer many times can seem boring. Prayer is so important…the Church without prayer becomes an NGO, it does not have that unctio Sancti Spiritu. Prayer is the first step, because it is opening oneself to the Lord to be able to open up to others. It is the Lord that says, “Go here, go there, do this …”, you will be inspired by the creativity that cost many saints a lot…. But when creativity comes from the Spirit and is born in prayer. It can bring you problems. The creativity that comes from prayer has an anthropological dimension of transcendence, because through prayer you open yourself to the transcendent, to God.
But there is also another transcendence: opening oneself up to others, to one’s neighbour. We must not be a Church closed in on itself, which looks at its navel, a self-referential Church, who looks at itself and is not able to transcend. Twofold transcendence is important: toward God and toward one’s neighbour. Coming out of oneself is not an adventure; it is a journey, it is the path that God has indicated to men, to the people from the first moment when he said to Abraham, “Go from your country.”
He had to go out of himself. And when I come out of myself, I meet God and I meet others.
- How do you meet others?
- From a distance or up close?
You must meet them up close, closeness. Creativity, transcendence and closeness. Closeness is a key word: be near. Do not be afraid of anything. Being close. The man of God is not afraid. Paul himself, when he saw many idols in Athens, was not scared. He said to the people: “You are religious, many idols … but, I’ll speak to you about another.” He did not get scared and he got close to them.
He also cited poets: “As your poets say…” It’s about closeness to a culture, closeness to people, to their way of thinking, their sorrows, their resentments. Many times this closeness is just a penance, because we need to listen to boring things, to offensive things.
Two years ago, a priest went to Argentina as a missionary. He was from the Diocese of Buenos Aires and he went to a diocese in the south, to an area where for years they had no priest, and evangelicals had arrived. He told me that he went to a woman who had been the teacher of the people and then the principle of the village school.
This lady sat him down and began to insult him, not with bad words, but to insult him forcefully: “You abandoned us, we left us alone, and I, who need of God’s Word, had to go to Protestant worship and I became Protestant”.
This young priest, who is meek, who is one who prays, when the woman finished her discourse, said: “Madam, just one word: forgiveness. Forgive us, forgive us. We abandoned the flock.” And the tone of the woman changed. However, she remained Protestant and the priest did not go into the argument of which was the true religion. In that moment, you could not do this. In the end, the lady began to smile and said: “Father, would you like some coffee?” – “Yes, let’s have a coffee.”
And when the priest was about to leave, she said: “Stop here, Father. Come.” And she led him into the bedroom, opened the closet and there was the image of Our Lady: “You should know that I never abandoned her. I hid her because of the pastor, but she’s in the home.” It is a story which teaches how proximity, meekness brought about this woman’s reconciliation with the Church, because she felt abandoned by the Church.
And I asked a question that you should never ask:
- “And then, how things turn out?
- How did things finish?”.
But the priest corrected me: “Oh, no, I did not ask anything: she continues to go to Protestant worship, but you can see that she is a woman who prays. She faces the Lord Jesus.” And it did not go beyond that. He did not invite her to return to the Catholic Church. …
Dialogue is a human thing. It is hearts and souls that dialogue, and this is so important! Do not be afraid to dialogue with anyone. … Pope Benedict has a beautiful expression. He said it in Aparecida but I believe he repeated elsewhere: “The Church grows not by proselytism, but by attraction.” And what’s the attraction? It is this human empathy, which is then guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what will be the profile of the priest of this century, which is so secularized? A man of creativity, who follows the commandment of God – “create things”; a man of transcendence, both with God in prayer and with the others always; a man who is approachable and who is close to people. To distance people is not priestly and people are fed up of this attitude, and yet it happens all the same.
But he who welcomes people and is close to them and dialogues with them does so because he feels certain of his identity, which leads him to have an heart open to empathy. This is what comes to me to say to you in response to your question…
I would like to return to another sign, the sign of bitterness. Once a priest told me, here in Rome: “But, I see many times we are a Church of angry people, always angry with each other; we always have something to be angry about.” This leads to sadness and bitterness: there is no joy. When we find a priest in a diocese who lives with anger and tension, we think: but this man has vinegar for breakfast. Then, at lunch, pickled vegetables, and then in the evening some beautiful lemon juice.
His life is not working, because it is the image of a Church of angry people. Instead, joy is a sign that things are going well. You can be angry: it is even healthy to get angry once. But the state of ire is not of the Lord and it leads to sadness and disunity. And in the end, you said “fidelity to God and man.” It ‘the same as we said before. It is twofold faithfulness and twofold transcendence: to be faithful to God is to seek him, to open oneself up to Him in prayer, remembering that He is faithful one. He cannot deny Himself; he is always faithful. And then opening oneself to others; it is that empathy, that respect, that listening, and saying the right word with patience.

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-has-casual-qa-with-priests-of-caserta

Vatican, Pope

Survey: Most Americans say U.S. should shelter, not rush to deport, child migrants (10)

July 31st, 2014

Cathy Lynn Grossman; Religion News Service; 29/7/14,
Most Americans say the waves of children crossing into the United States from Central America are refugees fleeing danger at home. And they say the United States should support these children while reviewing their cases, not deport them immediately. These largely sympathetic views come from all points along the political and religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute on Tuesday.
Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway.
Most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent).
(The survey sample of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons).
“It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.” As a result, most Americans can make a “pretty clear distinction between the problem of the children arriving from Central America and the problem of illegal immigration in general,” Jones said.
The survey found that overall attitudes toward immigrants are hardening somewhat, with a slight upward shift in the numbers who say they are a burden, not an asset, to the United States.
About one in four Americans (27 percent) see the children as illegal immigrants who should be deported. But 69 percent say they should be treated as refugees and allowed to remain in the United States if authorities determine it is not safe for them to be sent home.
However, Jones said, “even among those who say, in general, to identify and deport them, more than one in three nonetheless say in the case of the children, they would offer support and begin a process of considering if they could stay.”
Almost no one thinks the children are traveling thousands of miles without their parents for trivial reasons. The children are seen as fleeing violence and serious threats to their safety at home (45 percent), seeking better education and economic opportunities (34 percent) or both (14 percent).
Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) say the children should be offered shelter and support while there’s “a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.”
Most (56 percent) say these children’s families are “doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances.” At the same time, however, 38 percent say those children’s families are “taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country.”
And about one in four (26 percent) say they should be deported immediately.
Few minimize the seriousness of the situation — 36 percent consider it a crisis, and 43 percent call it “a serious problem but not a crisis.”
- What to do with these children?
Most surveyed (71 percent) said the U.S. should offer “refuge and protection” for those who come to the U.S. “when they are facing serious danger in their home country.”
71 percent also mostly agree that these Central American children waiting for their cases to be heard “should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches rather than be detained by immigration authorities.” (Twenty-eight percent disagree.)
However, only 39 percent would allow these children to stay for good while 59 percent don’t want them here long-term because it “will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”
The wave of children at the border is “impacting what Americans think about immigrants generally,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI research director, in a press release. In short, attitudes are becoming more polarized between those who see immigrants as an asset and those who see them as a burden. In early April, most people (54 percent) said immigrants make the U.S. stronger with their “hard work and talents,” but that figure declined to 49 percent by last week. Meanwhile, more said immigrants “take our jobs, housing and health care” — rising from 38 percent to 42 percent.
Views on access to citizenship or permanent legal residency did not change significantly. Most today (58 percent) would allow a path to citizenship; 17 percent would allow residency. And 22 percent say “identify and deport them.”
The overall survey is based on phone interviews with 1,026 adults, conducted in English and Spanish between July 23 and July 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

http://ncronline.org/blogs/immigration-and-church/survey-most-americans-say-us-should-shelter-not-rush-deport-child

The plight of a group of Sri Lankan refugees: At sea for over a month – then locked up in the Outback under Australia’s hardline asylum policies (9)

July 31st, 2014

Kathy Marks; 29/7/14

For nearly a month, they were held at sea – now 157 asylum-seekers intercepted on their way to Australia are locked up in an Outback detention centre, their future uncertain as lawyers wrangle about this latest challenge to the country’s hardline asylum policies.
The group, believed to be mostly ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka, set off from India last month, but were picked up by an Australian customs vessel. Human rights lawyers in Australia launched a High Court case to prevent them being returned home, which was the fate of a previous boatload of Sri Lankans handed over to India’s navy mid-ocean earlier this month.
With Tony Abbott’s government set against “boat people” setting foot on Australian shores, the group – which includes 50 children – found itself in limbo. It was only after India agreed to assess them, with a view to repatriating them, that they were flown to Australia earlier this week to the remote Curtin Detention Centre, in Western Australia.
As Indian consular officials today continued preparations to travel to Curtin, the High Court agreed to hear a compensation claim for false imprisonment by lawyers for some of the group. The would-be refugees were held in windowless rooms, allowed out only for meals and about three hours of daylight daily, according to court documents.
Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, told media they were economic migrants. “A very large number of people… had been resident in India for a very long time,” he said, adding: “They haven’t come from Sri Lanka.” India has agreed to take back any of its nationals, and to consider taking Sri Lankans who were resident there.
It was only because of the High Court action that information about events reached the Australian public. The Australian government has shrouded its anti-“people smuggling” operations in increasing secrecy, while boasting that no boat people have reached Australia since December. This latest group was allowed in only to facilitate India’s task.
It has also emerged that during Mr Morrison’s talks with Indian ministers last week, he presented them with bats signed by Australian cricketing greats Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath. The pair, who are both retired, were then lambasted on social media. Lee’s manager said today that he had no idea the bats would be used for that purpose. Lee himself tweeted: “I am a strong supporter of human rights and for me to be positioned as otherwise because I signed a cricket bat is totally wrong.”
Mr Morrison rubbished the idea that the asylum-seekers were fleeing persecution. “I’d be surprised if anyone was seriously suggesting that people were being persecuted in India by the Indian government,” he said.
Hugh de Kretser, a lawyer for the asylum-seekers, denied they were economic migrants, saying they had all claimed refugee protection. Another lawyer, George Newhouse, said it was impossible to assess those claims as lawyers had been given “very little to no access to our clients”.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/the-plight-of-a-group-of-sri-lankan-refugees-at-sea-for-over-a-month–then-locked-up-in-the-outback-under-australias-hardline-asylum-policies-9636446.html

Australia, Migrants & Refugees