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Israel orders new 'evacuations' in Rafah as military action expected

Sat, 05/11/2024 - 11:05
Israel orders new 'evacuations' in Rafah as military action expected
Air strikes hit Gaza city as Israeli army says more than 300,000 people have left since Monday
MEE staff Sat, 05/11/2024 - 12:05
Palestinians gather their belongings as they flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on 11 May 2024 (AFP)

Israeli forces gave new orders for people to leave areas in Rafah on Saturday as it prepared to expand its military operation in the city despite warnings from the international community.

Around 300,000 people have left eastern Rafah in the south of Gaza for a "humanitarian area in Al-Mawasai", following orders on Monday to leave, according to an Israeli military statement.

Israeli forces issued the order and captured the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as it prepared for a ground invasion of the city, while on Saturday it gave orders for more departures in eastern Rafah and northern Gaza.

In a post on X, Avichay Adraee, the Israeli military's Arabic-language spokesperson, called on residents to  evacuate parts of al-Jnaina, Khirbet al-Adas and al-Adari neighbourhoods, and Shaboura camp and to "immediately head to the shelters west of Gaza City".

He said that people in these areas were in a "dangerous combat zone ... [T]herefore everyone who is in those areas exposes themselves and their families to danger".

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On Friday, the UN said more than 100,000 Palestinians had evacuated Rafah this week.

The Palestinian health ministry has reported at least 34,971 Palestinians killed and 78,641 others wounded since Israel's war on Gaza began in October.

Al Jazeera reported that the bodies of at least 30 Palestinians who were killed in overnight Israeli attacks on their homes in Gaza were being taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. The victims reportedly included the elderly, women and children.

Seven Palestinians were also killed and others injured in Israeli air strikes northwest of Rafah, according to Wafa news agency. According to an agency correspondent, the Israeli strikes had targeted a house in the Areeba area.

He said the victims were taken to the Kuwaiti Speciality Hospital in Rafah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he would push on with his plans to invade Rafah in order to uproot Hamas, which was responsible for an attack in Israel on 7 October that left 1,170 people dead and saw hundreds of captured Israelis and others taken to Gaza.

There are also an estimated 10,000 Palestinians buried under the rubble of buildings flattened by Israeli bombing, according to the Palestinian civil defence.

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'Epic humanitarian disaster'

A number of international actors have warned Israel against the planned invasion of Rafah, which has already become a haven for Palestinians fleeing Israeli attacks in the rest of the enclave.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that Gaza risked an "epic humanitarian disaster" if Israel launched a full-scale ground operation. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that the World Food Programme and UN aid agency Unrwa were set to run out of food for distribution in southern Gaza "by tomorrow" due to the continued closure of border crossings by Israeli forces.

In a video statement posted on X, OCHA chief Georgios Petropoulos warned that the "humanitarian situation in Gaza is in a downward spiral" and urged for the "immediate entry of aid and fuel".

The French foreign ministry also called on Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah and to reopen the border crossing to allow the passage of aid into Gaza.

In a statement posted on X, the ministry condemned the Israeli attack on Gaza's southernmost city, warning it could cause "a catastrophic situation for the civilian population of Gaza".

The ministry urged Israel to return to negotiations, "the only possible path to lead to the immediate release of hostages and obtain a lasting ceasefire".

In the US, Israel's biggest backer, mounting pressure domestically and internationally led President Joe Biden, for the first time, to raise the possibility of withholding military aid from Israel, which totals $3bn annually.

War on Gaza: Why is David Cameron silent on Israel's invasion of Rafah?
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The United Nations General Assembly on Friday voted overwhelmingly to pass a resolution that would expand the membership rights of Palestine, putting the country on a path towards full membership in the UN, a major step up from its current status as an observer state without voting rights.

The resolution passed with 143 votes in favour, nine abstentions, and 25 votes against. The US and Israel voted against the resolution.

Late on Friday and after a delay of several days, the US State Department released its highly anticipated report on whether Israel was using American weapons in violation of international law in Gaza.

The report found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israel did use American-supplied weapons in violation of international law.

However, given the lack of evidence and the lack of a US government presence on the ground in Gaza, the report could not make any definitive conclusions.

Jordanian authorities shut down Muslim Brotherhood-linked TV station

Sat, 05/11/2024 - 09:28
Jordanian authorities shut down Muslim Brotherhood-linked TV station
Closure of the network comes amid a crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism in Jordan
MEE staff Sat, 05/11/2024 - 10:28
A demonstrator holds a sign that says "From Amman, greetings to the American students" during a protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza, in Amman, Jordan, 3 May 2024 (Reuters)

Jordanian security forces have shut down a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated channel, part of wider crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism in the Kingdom.

On 7 May, security forces stormed the Al-Yarmouk TV channel offices in Amman, seizing broadcasting equipment and barring employees from entering the building.

The public prosecutor ordered the closure of the network "due to its unauthorised activity and broadcasting from Jordan without obtaining official governmental approvals".

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Jordanian authorities to reopen the channel, linking its closure to a broader crackdown on journalists in the country.

"CPJ calls on the Jordanian authorities to allow all journalists and media outlets to do their job freely and without fear of retaliation," CPJ programme director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said.

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Al-Yarmouk has aired content from the Hamas-affiliated broadcaster Al-Aqsa TV since the French satellite operator Eutelsat stopped the outlet from broadcasting in October 2023.

In a statement on Facebook, Al-Yarmouk said it had filed for a licence, which was pending approval. It said the network had faced shutdowns in the past for broadcasting without a permit but had been acquitted of these charges.

Two years after its launch in 2013, the channel was shut down, but it managed to work with local companies to produce and record its programmes.

In 2016, the Jordan Media Commission issued a circular to production and distribution companies prohibiting them from dealing with "unlicensed" channels.

The channel's then director, Khader Al-Mashaykh, told Arabi21 that the network had long sought a permit but that its application had been stalled pending approval from Jordan's prime minister. 

He said the authorities had advised that the network could continue its operations while awaiting approval.

The authorities did not clarify the reasons for denying the channel a permit, but said that the decision was not politically motivated.

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A sweeping crackdown

This shutdown comes amid a sweeping crackdown on pro-Palestinian activism in Jordan that has seen hundreds of people arbitrarily detained by security forces since 7 October.

According to Amnesty International, Jordanian authorities have arrested at least 1,500 people since October, with 500 detained since March following huge protests outside the Israeli embassy in Amman. 

Video footage of the protests revealed Jordanian police violently dispersing demonstrators using batons and tear gas.

According to the detainees' lawyers, dozens remain in pre-trial detention, with at least 21 held in illegal administrative detention, despite the public prosecutor allowing their release.

According to lawyers and activists who spoke to Amnesty, the authorities have imposed new restrictions on pro-Palestine protests, banning the Palestinian flag and certain slogans and the participation of children under the age of 18. Demonstrations are also given a curfew of midnight. 

Additionally, dozens of people have reportedly been charged for posting pro-Palestinian statements on social media, under Jordan's cybercrime law, which criminalises any speech that may offend law-enforcement officials.

Amnesty International's campaigner on Jordan, Reina Wehbi, said: "The Jordanian government must immediately release all those who have been arbitrarily detained since October 2023 over their pro-Palestine activism.

"The government must ensure that protesters and activists have the freedom to peacefully criticise the government's policies towards Israel without being attacked by security forces or violently arrested."

UAE rules out role in administration of Gaza after conflict

Sat, 05/11/2024 - 09:27
UAE rules out role in administration of Gaza after conflict
Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed says his country won't provide 'cover' for Israel in Gaza
MEE staff Sat, 05/11/2024 - 10:27
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a meeting with the Hungarian foreign and trade minister in Budapest on 2 April 2024 (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

The United Arab Emirates has ruled out taking part in the administration of the Gaza Strip after the end of the current war, saying it would not provide "cover" for Israel's actions in the enclave.

In a statement on social media, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed denounced comments made earlier this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that suggested the Gulf state would be involved in overseeing the running of the Gaza Strip after the end of Israel's assault.

"The UAE stresses that the Israeli Prime Minister does not have any legal capacity to take this step, and the state refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip," he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

"The UAE affirms that when a Palestinian government is formed that meets the hopes and aspirations of the brotherly Palestinian people and enjoys integrity, competence and independence, the state will be fully prepared to provide all forms of support to that government."

The foreign minister is among those expected at a summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh this weekend to discuss the war in Gaza.

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The World Economic Forum opens in the kingdom on Sunday and will also feature the Jordanian, Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministers.

The UAE was one of a number of Arab countries that agreed in 2020 to recognise Israel, but the conflict in Gaza has put a strain on the newly established relationships.

Saudi Arabia's own plans for recognising Israel have been sunk since the conflict began, with the kingdom reiterating its opposition to recognition without the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel likely breached international law in Gaza with US weapons: State Department

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 22:15
Israel likely breached international law in Gaza with US weapons: State Department
US says it can't make any definitive conclusions because of a lack of evidence
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 23:15
A Palestinian man carrries a wounded girl after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on 17 November 2023 (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Biden administration has released a report stating that there are reasonable grounds to believe Israel on several occasions used American-supplied weapons "inconsistent" with international humanitarian law.

However, the report says the US was unable to verify whether American weapons were used during those incidents, given the "lack of [US government] personnel on the ground in Gaza".

The report from the US State Department comes as a result of President Joe Biden issuing a national security memorandum (NSM-20) in early February on whether the administration finds credible Israel's assurances that its use of US weapons doesn't violate either American or international law.

If the administration concludes that Israel has used American weapons in violation of international law, it means Washington would have to suspend military assistance to the country.

The highly-anticipated report was supposed to be delivered to Congress earlier this week, but the administration delayed its release to Friday evening local time.

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It laid out several instances in which the Israeli military's actions raised "serious concerns". Those incidents included the Israeli air strike on aid workers with the international charity World Central Kitchen, the "Flour Massacre" Israel's military committed in northern Gaza, and its attacks on other international aid groups and charities operating in Gaza.

Biden's threat to withhold arms to Israel masks divisions over the fate of Hamas
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Despite widespread reporting of these incidents, the report said the Biden administration could not make any definitive assessment as to whether US weapons were used in those attacks.

The report also says that "Israel has not shared complete information to verify whether US defense articles covered under NSM-20 were specifically used in actions that have been alleged as violations of" international law or international humanitarian law.

"Nevertheless, given Israel's significant reliance on US-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm," the report said.

The Biden administration also asserted that Israel's "overall commitment to IHL is not necessarily disproven by individual IHL violations", noting that Israel has committed to investigating these individual violations.

"The State Department will continue to engage with the Government of Israel to establish a dedicated channel … to review incidents of concern and to make recommendations to reduce the risk of civilian harm," the report said.

Israel not impeding US aid to Gaza

The war in Gaza began on 7 October, when Palestinian fighters led by Hamas broke out of Gaza and launched an attack on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking around 240 people hostage.

Israel responded with a declaration of war, launching an indiscriminate bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion. So far, Israel has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The Biden administration responded to the war by fast-tracking weapons shipments to Israel and providing a diplomatic shield for Israel at the United Nations, blocking several resolutions calling for a ceasefire and an end to the war.

Rocks, looting, protests: How Israelis are blocking Gaza-bound aid trucks
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However, after widespread protests across the country and with Biden's support for the war growing unpopular among his voter base, President Biden began to offer some limited criticism of Israel's war efforts.

The administration also paused a single shipment of munitions to Israel, a move rights groups said fell far from short of Washington's stated commitments to international law and human rights.

Another element of the report was an assessment of whether Israel was impeding the access of aid into Gaza.

Aid agencies, charities and rights groups have all accused Israel of restricting the amount of aid that is allowed to enter Gaza.

The United Nations has said that northern Gaza is facing a full-blown famine due to the lack of aid entering the area.

Israel denies it is blocking aid to the besieged Palestinian enclave. While the US said in its report that the amount of aid entering Gaza is not sufficient, it did not conclude that Israel is restricting Washington's efforts to deliver aid.

"We do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of US humanitarian assistance within the meaning of section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act."

South Africa asks World Court to order Israeli withdrawal from Rafah

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 18:01
South Africa asks World Court to order Israeli withdrawal from Rafah
South Africa also demands 'unimpeded access' to humanitarian aid into Gaza
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 19:01
South African professor of international law John Dugard, left, and South African Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor arrive at ICJ in The Hague, on 26 January (Remko de Waal/AFP)

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday to order additional emergency measures against Israel over its military assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip. 

In a 10-page document submitted to the ICJ, South Africa asks the World Court to order Israel to "immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive in the Rafah Governorate" and to facilitate "unimpeded access" to humanitarian aid and assistance to the population of Gaza, the document reads.

It also demands the entry of "internationally mandated bodies or officials, investigators, and journalists" into the country for the purpose of "retaining evidence". 

It also asks Israel to submit an open report to the ICJ within one week of Friday, detailing the measures Israel has taken to comply with "all previous provisional measures" detailed by the court. 

Today's emergency measures are an addition to Israel's ongoing genocide case at the UN's top court in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of acts of genocide against Palestinians. 

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An interim ruling earlier this year ordered Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza but did not order Israel to halt military operations, one of South Africa's key demands in the case. 

The court was of the opinion that South Africa made a plausible case demonstrating that Israel has displayed intent to execute genocide.

The request for Israel's immediate withdrawal and halt of the military offensive in Rafah adds this provision. 

Pending ICJ decision 

The nine interim measures requested by South Africa included an immediate cessation of military operations in Gaza, preventing forcible displacement of Palestinians, ceasing any restrictions on humanitarian aid entering the enclave, refraining from committing genocide and inciting it, and preventing the destruction of evidence of alleged crimes in Gaza. 

During the interim ruling, which took place on 26 January, the ICJ ruled that Israel must take measures to prevent acts that fall under Article II of the Genocide Convention. These include the killing of members of a particular group, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately bringing about the physical destruction of the group, and imposing measures intended to prevent births.

An Airwars investigation concluded that Palestinian civilians were killed every day in the first two weeks after the ICJ ruling. 

The ICJ will aim to issue an opinion regarding the genocide case before the end of the year. 

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While rulings from the ICJ are legally binding, the court cannot enforce them, as no mechanism can be used to force compliance. Rights groups, however, say that resolutions can still have an impact.

Human Rights Watch said in February that any opinion issued could "carry great moral and legal authority and can ultimately become part of customary international law, which is legally binding on states".

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, previously said during a press conference that "if the ICJ is serious about investigating what Israel has done in Gaza as of the 7th of October only, it will be busy for decades".

Ghassan Abu Sittah: HRW calls on Germany to explain Europe travel ban on surgeon

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 14:11
Ghassan Abu Sittah: HRW calls on Germany to explain Europe travel ban on surgeon
In past weeks, the British-Palestinian doctor has been barred from entering Germany, France and The Netherlands
Areeb Ullah Fri, 05/10/2024 - 15:11
Ghassan Abu Sittah’s lawyers said the surgeon was placed on the Schengen Information System and banned from entering France and Germany (AFP)

Human Rights Watch has called on Germany to confirm whether it has imposed a year-long ban on prominent British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah from entering Europe. 

In the past two weeks, Abu Sittah, who operated in Gaza during the first few weeks of the war, was barred from entering France to address the French Senate and the Netherlands.

Earlier this year, Germany also banned Abu Sittah from entering the country to speak at a Palestine solidarity conference and deported him back to the UK. 

Abu Sitta's lawyers said French police told him at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris that he was banned from entering Europe for one year because Germany placed him on the Schengen Information System (SIS) without informing him of the reason. 

HRW is now calling on Germany to clarify whether it has placed Abu Sittah on the SIS and, if so, why it did do so without notifying the surgeon. 

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Yasmine Ahmed, UK director for Human Rights Watch, said Abu Sittah informed them that German authorities had initially refused him entry “because of the safety of the people at the conference and public order”.

“Germany can’t rely on broad exceptions to trample on rights, and HRW has written to the German government for an explanation,” Ahmed told Middle East Eye. 

“Germany has an obligation not only to respect freedom of expression and peaceful association but to facilitate it. These rights can only be limited in very narrow circumstances and any limitation must be grounded in law and proportionate.”

Ghassan Abu Sittah: ‘This is what I saw in Gaza’ (Part 1) | Real Talk
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Ahmed added that the ban imposed by Germany is a “direct attack” on Abu Sittah's right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“[This ban] also violates the rights of people across the Schengen area to hear from a witness to the unfolding events in Gaza, and may impede accountability efforts by hindering his ability to provide information to judicial authorities across Europe,” said Ahmed. 

Since leaving Gaza in late November, the doctor has been raising awareness about the impact of Israel's war, which has killed more than 34,900 Palestinians.

In the initial weeks after Israel began its assault, Abu Sittah was the unofficial English-speaking representative of Palestinian doctors and surgeons treating Palestinians wounded by Israeli attacks.

He accused the Israeli military of using white phosphorus, which is illegal in built-up and populated areas like Gaza, and deliberately targeting children.

In an interview with MEE, after he left Gaza, Abu Sittah said medics were using household items to treat patients because of an Israeli-imposed blockade on medical equipment entering the enclave.

"Eventually, everything was running out. Initially, we replaced the antiseptic solution with washing-up liquid and vinegar," Abu Sittah said. 

HRW calls on Germany to explain Europe travel ban on surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah

General Assembly endorses pathway for full Palestinian statehood at UN

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 14:10
General Assembly endorses pathway for full Palestinian statehood at UN
UN General Assembly delivers near-unanimous approval of Palestine’s qualification for full UN-member status
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 15:10
The new draft resolution determines that the State of Palestine is "qualified for membership in the United Nations" and should therefore be admitted to membership (Reuters)

The United Nations General Assembly has voted in favour of granting "new rights and privileges" to the state of Palestine, paving a pathway to full UN-member status.

At Friday's emergency session at the 49th meeting of the UN General Assembly, 143 countries voted in favour of upgrading Palestine's status at the United Nations, with nine voting against and 25 abstentions.

Israel and the US voted against the resolution.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said on Monday, that if the measure was approved, he expected the US to cut funding to the United Nations and its institutions, in accordance with American law.

The ambassador also brought a small paper shredder to the podium and shredded the UN charter to symbolise how Israel views Friday’s "destructive" vote.

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Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour spoke of a day when Palestine "takes its rightful place among free nations".

The resolution calls on the Security Council to reconsider the request for Palestine to become the 194th member of the United Nations. The United States vetoed a Security Council resolution on 18 April that would have paved the way for full membership.

The resolution does not give Palestine full UN membership but recognises it as qualified to join. 

The resolution points out that it is done "on an exceptional basis and without setting a precedent", which discourages other hopefuls like Kosovo or Taiwan from employing the same strategy at the UN. 

In defence of their vote, the United States maintained its position that full Palestinian statehood and full UN membership should come as a result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Robert A Wood, US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution does not "resolve the concerns about the Palestine membership application raised in April at the Security Council".

The US also threatened that if the UN Security Council reconsiders its vote on Palestine's member status, it will once again exercise its veto.

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"The Palestinian people have been denied their right to self-determination since 1947. This assembly can partly address this historical injustice by admitting Palestine as a full member of the United Nations. It meets all the criteria of membership," Munir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN, said. 

France declared it is in favour of Palestine to be admitted as a full member. 

What does this mean in practice?

The new draft resolution determines that the State of Palestine is "qualified for membership in the United Nations" and should therefore be admitted to membership.

The resolution is being viewed as a way to circumvent the United Nations Security Council in taking a first step towards full membership.

Most remarkably the resolution looks to adopt new rights and privileges for Palestine in procedural matters at the UN, despite the state's continuing "observer status", and requests the UN secretary general to implement these privileges.

New privileges also include the right to make statements on behalf of a group, to submit proposals and amendments and introduce them orally, the right of reply, as well as co-sponsor proposals and amendments and to raise procedural motions, among others. 

It also grants members of the Palestinian delegation to be elected as officers in the plenary and main committees of the General Assembly.

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It does not grant Palestine the right to vote in the GA, propose resolutions or put forward its candidature to UN organs.

It also gives the right to "full and effective participation in United Nations conferences and international conferences and meetings convened under the auspices of the General Assembly".

The state of Palestine would also be able to be seated among member states in alphabetical order and have the right to be listed as speakers on agenda items other than the Middle East or Palestine. 

After the UN General Assembly vote, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Palestine would "continue its endeavour" to obtain full UN membership status and is looking for another vote at the UNSC.

Biden's threat to withhold arms to Israel masks divisions over the fate of Hamas

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 12:39
Biden's threat to withhold arms to Israel masks divisions over the fate of Hamas
Frustrated by Israel's refusal to agree to ceasefire deal, Biden felt forced to publicly threaten arms transfers, analysts and former officials say
Sean Mathews Fri, 05/10/2024 - 13:39
The Biden administration decided to delay a shipment of munitions to Israel, out of concern they could be used in Rafah (AFP)

The CIA director brushed aside in high-stakes truce talks. The US president's warnings about civilian Palestinian casualties ignored. And private discussions about billions of dollars in arms transfers leaked to the media.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration took a flurry of Israeli transgressions on the chin.

But when it finally decided to react, it was a carefully choreographed jab - the promise that it would withhold offensive weapons from Israel if it launched a full-scale assault on Rafah.

Frank Lowenstein, a former special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the Obama administration, told Middle East Eye that for a long time the Israelis "barely paid lip-service to US concerns".

"After two months of handwringing, the White House came to the conclusion that the Israelis do not care what we say. They only care what we do."

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Biden's historic public threat to withhold arms and munitions to Israel was the culmination of months of tensions, but the decision came reluctantly, current and former US officials familiar with the deliberations told MEE.

Last week, the Biden administration decided to delay a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs to Israel, out of concern they could be used in Rafah. There were weeks of discussions, which included disagreements, among Biden's advisors on whether to leverage the flow of arms, the current and former US officials told MEE.

'Nobody in the administration wanted this to be public'

- Former US official

Biden's top Middle East advisor on the National Security Council Brett McGurk opposed conditioning arms sales. But Jon Finer, another key Biden advisor, who has led outreach to Arab Americans riled over US support for Israel, along with Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken, supported the move, current and former US officials told MEE.

After the decision was made, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government mobilised, leaking the story on Sunday to Axios.

"Nobody in the administration wanted this to be public," the former senior US official told MEE.

The White House then came clean.

First, the pause was reported through an unnamed US official on Tuesday, then publicly via US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin at a Senate hearing. More weapons systems could also be held up if Israel launched a full-scale attack on Rafah, the State Department said later in the day.

Biden finally weighed in on CNN. He admitted that US bombs had been used by Israel to kill civilians. "It's just wrong," he said.

Rafah invasion: With defeat in sight, how can Netanyahu declare victory?
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"If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem," he said, threatening to withhold bombs and artillery shells to the Israeli military.

Biden's warning sets up a historic showdown between the US and its closest ally.

There is precedent for the US withholding arms to Israel. US President Ronald Reagan halted the delivery of artillery shells and cluster bombs when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The following year, he conditioned the transfer of F-16s on Israel’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.

But Biden's stance marks the first time a US president has preemptively threatened to withhold arms to stop an Israeli attack.

'Carefuly scripted warning'

The decision to announce it on primetime television means Biden's decision to follow through on the threat is going to be tracked minute by minute by US voters, and America's friends and foes in the Middle East.

Israeli officials, intent on continuing to wage war on Gaza after the Hamas-led 7 October attacks, are already in a verbal joust with the administration.

Michael Herzog, Israel's ambassador to the US, said Biden's move was "very unfortunate. I think it sends the wrong message to Hamas and to our enemies in the region".

In a video on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his threat to launch a full-scale attack on Rafah: "If we need to stand alone, we will stand alone. As I've already said, we will fight with our fingernails."

'The US is operating off a script driven by the realities on the ground that Hamas will survive'

- Aaron David Miller, former State Department official

In reality, Biden's threat likely leaves enough room for the US and its closest Middle East ally to work around a "Rubicon moment" that would force the US leader's hand, marking a very public, and nasty rift, in ties.

"This was an unmistakable but carefully scripted warning on a very limited issue," Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US State Department Middle East negotiator, told MEE.

Israel sent tanks and troops into Rafah on Monday night. It later seized control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and launched air and artillery strikes. Israeli soldiers are engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas in Rafah. The Israeli attack has already forced 80,000 Palestinians to flee, according to the UN.

But Biden said Israel's assault had "not yet" crossed his red line, conditioning his threat to an Israeli full-scale assault on "population centres" in Rafah and what other US officials have characterised as a major attack.

On Thursday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Israel's assault so far matched the "more precise, more targeted, more limited kinds of operations" that the White House had pressed Israel to conduct in Rafah.

"This is more of pink line," Lowenstein said.

"Biden will do everything he can to avoid escalating this fight… but if you see big bombs getting dropped on the centre of Rafah, this spat will get ugly."

The focal point may be Rafah, but the border town turned sprawling refugee camp, currently sheltering over 1.2 million Palestinians, is just one part of a more menacing diplomatic dillema the White House faces in Gaza.

'Step in right direction'

Since 7 October, the Biden administration has approved more than 100 weapons sales to Israel. While Biden's CNN interview has stolen the headlines, the US president also gave a speech this week slamming Hamas and pledging "ironclad" US support for Israel’s security.

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Biden's current pause on munitions transfers also doesn't impact the roughly $26bn in military and humanitarian aid that his administration approved for Israel in April.

Biden is trying to balance support for Israel, with deepening frustration in the Democratic Party over Israel’s offensive on Gaza. More than 34,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed in Israel's military assault, according to Palestinian health officials. There are also an estimated 10,000 Palestinians buried under the rubble of flattened buildings, according to the Palestinian civil defence.

Rafah Kids
Displaced Palestinians gather their belongings before fleeing al-Mawasi to another area in Rafah in southern Gaza, on 9 May (AFP)

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Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee, has already used his power to put a hold on an $18bn arms transfer for Israel, which includes F-15 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, progressive outrage over US support for Israel has manifested in historic pro-Palestinian demonstrations at college campuses.

On Friday, the State Department is expected to submit a report to Congress, required under a new national security memorandum, on Israel's use of US-supplied weapons in Gaza. Underlining the tightrope Biden is walking, Axios reported that the administration will criticise Israel, but rule that it has not violated humanitarian law with US weapons. 

The domestic battle lines over Biden's stance on Rafah have already been drawn.

Progressive lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren welcomed it as "a step in the right direction", while Republicans and pro-Israel lobbying groups have condemned it.

The White House hopes that a ceasefire based on a phased release of hostages in Gaza can mollify its progressive base before the November elections.

The administration also wants space to work with Arab leaders on a day-after plan for Gaza, which is growing more necessary as the besieged enclave slides into lawlessness and famine, current and former US officials have told MEE.

Allusive ceasefire

Part of the Biden administration's decision to publicly threaten arms transfers to Israel stems from a view in the White House that Netanyahu is torpedoing peace talks, the current and former officials say.

Just before Israel launched its attack on Rafah, Hamas agreed to a ceasefire proposal drafted by Qatar and Egypt that MEE reported had the backing of CIA director Bill Burns. Israel plowed ahead with its assault on Rafah anyway, where it says four Hamas battalions are based.

Analysts and experts say that inherent in the ceasefire proposal Burns backed is the uncomfortable admission that Israel has failed in its goal of destroying Hamas. After having laid siege to Gaza for months, US officials now say publicly that attacking Rafah - Hamas's last stronghold - will not defeat the group. Israel has also now repeatedly launched operations against Hamas in neighbourhoods in northern Gaza they had previously declared as cleared.

Text of the Gaza ceasefire proposal accepted by Hamas
Read More »

But Israeli officials are still casting a Rafah attack as necessary to eliminate the group. "Nobody presented to me, or to us, a strategy of defeating Hamas without dealing with Rafah," Herzog, Israel's ambassador, said. 

Hamas officials meanwhile have refused to budge from the proposal they accepted earlier this week. In a sign that the talks are stalled, Burns, the US's chief negotiator, departed Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday. 

The sticking point to the talks has been the second and last phases of the agreement that calls for a permanent ceasefire, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, and an end to the siege. 

US officials have been unable to publicly reconcile Burns' backing of the ceasefire, as reported by MEE, with the White House's position to help Israel defeat Hamas.

"An enduring defeat of Hamas certainly remains the Israeli goal, and we share that goal with them," Kirby said on Thursday. 

Biden told CNN the US promised Israel to "help you get" Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's leader in Gaza. But by threatening to restrict Israel's ability to operate in Rafah and agreeing to a permanent ceasefire, the US is tacitly accepting Hamas's presence in Gaza, analysts say. 

"The US is operating off a script driven by the realities on the ground that Hamas will survive either as an insurgency or as a force in Palestinian politics, influencing matters through intimidation or co-optation" Miller said.

Rocks, looting, protests: How Israelis are blocking Gaza-bound aid trucks

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 11:50
Rocks, looting, protests: How Israelis are blocking Gaza-bound aid trucks
Israeli groups are laying down stones, organising sit-ins and attacking humanitarian convoys to prevent supplies reaching besieged enclave
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 12:50
Israeli demonstrators gather by the border fence with Egypt at the Nitzana border crossing in southern Israel on 18 February 2024, as they attempt to block humanitarian aid trucks from entering into Israel on their way to the Gaza Strip (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
Israelis gather at the Nitzana border crossing in southern Israel on 18 February 2024, as they attempt to block humanitarian aid trucks from entering the Gaza Strip (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)

Far-right Israeli groups have taken extreme measures in recent day to block the passage of aid trucks bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. 

On Thursday, demonstrators cut off a road near the town of Mitzpe Ramon by forming a sit-in and scattering large rocks and stones across the road to prevent aid trucks and other vehicles from passing. 

“Do you find it reasonable that the state of Israel will deliver medicine, food, and fuel to terrorists who are at this very moment torturing our daughters?” one of the demonstrators said. 

Drone footage showed a long line of aid trucks effectively brought to a standstill along a winding narrow mountain pathway due to the protest. 

The protesters say that aid is helping Hamas, and believe that it should be blocked from entering Gaza until all Israeli captives taken to the enclave during the 7 October attack on southern Israel are freed. 

//

The UN says the entire 2.3 million population of Gaza is facing high levels of acute food insecurity due to Israeli siege and attacks, and is in need of aid.

A video posted to social media shows Israeli protesters scattering rocks on a road in the town of Mitzpe Ramon in Negev, also known as Naqab in Arabic, to block the entrance of aid trucks to Gaza. The protesters also organised a sit-in to protest aid being delivered to Gaza. pic.twitter.com/vnlqqL1gqP

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 10, 2024

Earlier in the week, six Israelis were arrested as protesters blocked and attacked aid trucks heading from Jordan to Gaza. 

Activists from far-right group Tzav 9 prevented trucks from passing at various roads along the trucks’ route on Monday night.

At the Latrun junction near Jerusalem, roads were blocked for several hours until Israeli police moved in to disperse the protesters. Police said several trucks and their contents were damaged. 

Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that protesters punctured the tyres of one truck. On another truck, demonstrators threw aid - including food - on to the road. 

“Dozens of protesters began to disturb the peace when they blocked humanitarian aid trucks travelling towards the Gaza Strip in accordance with the decision of the Israeli government,” Israeli police said in a statement. 

“Some of them caused damage to the trucks travelling on these roads and their contents.”

Israeli settlers damaged humanitarian aid trucks, including slashing their tyres and destroying boxes of food, as they were bound for Gaza at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing. pic.twitter.com/kDjKbvNq7j

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 8, 2024

A video posted on social media showed Israelis dumping bags of flour from an aid truck onto the road. 

Days earlier, Tzav 9 organised a protest at the King Hussein Bridge (Allenby) crossing between Jordan and the occupied West Bank. 

//

Protesters sat in front of trucks, holding up Israeli flags and pictures of captives held in Gaza. 

Jordan said the aid convoys were attacked by “extremist Israeli settlers”, condemning the action “in the strongest terms”. 

“The ministry considered the failure of the Israeli government to protect the two aid convoys, and allowing them to be attacked, as a brutal violation of its legal obligations, as the occupying power and of its obligations to allow aid to enter Gaza,” Jordan’s foreign ministry said last week. 

Crossings closed

Israel closed the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing along the boundary between Gaza, Israel and Egypt, on Sunday following a deadly Hamas rocket attack on a nearby military site that killed four Israeli soldiers and wounded 10 others. 

The Rafah crossing, the only route in and out of Gaza not controlled by Israel, was captured by Israeli forces on Tuesday. 

Palestinian officials at the crossing have said that passenger entries and aid deliveries have since stopped due to the Israeli ground invasion of the area. 

'They can barely walk': Palestinians too 'starved' to leave Rafah, aid workers say
Read More »

Israeli authorities said they re-opened the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing in northern Gaza last month, allowing limited non-fuel supplies to enter the enclave. The crossing, which is mostly used for foot traffic rather than goods, was closed in October after it was destroyed during Hamas's attack.

"Erez will simply not be enough," said James Elder, spokesperson for the UN children's agency, on Tuesday. "If Rafah gate closes for an extended period, it's hard to see how famine in Gaza can be averted."

In the genocide case against Israel, the International Court of Justice in January issued a provisional ruling ordering the country to enable the entry of urgent humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But well before the capture of the Rafah crossing this week, Israel had already been found to be defying the order by directly bombing aid convoys and impeding aid deliveries through delays, denials of entry and protests.

Israelis from across the political spectrum have been gathering at Karem Abu Salem to stop the delivery of humanitarian aid since January.

Many had set up tents in the area, and blocked aid entries by lying across the ground in front of trucks. Israeli authorities subsequently declared the area a military zone, in order to clear protesters.

In just one day, on 6 February, the protesters blocked the delivery of 130 aid trucks entering Gaza. 

War on Gaza: Hamas steps up fighting as aid runs out under Israeli blockade

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 11:44
War on Gaza: Hamas steps up fighting as aid runs out under Israeli blockade
UN agencies 'scrape bottom of the barrel' while humanitarian operations face imminent closure due to fuel shortages
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 12:44
A man looks on as thick, black smoke rises from a fire in a building caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on 10 May 2024 (AFP)
A man looks on as smoke rises from a fire caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on 10 May 2024 (AFP)

The armed wing of Palestinian group Hamas stepped up fighting with invading Israeli troops in Rafah and Gaza City on Friday, killing at least four soldiers and wounding others. 

In a series of battlefield updates, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades said it ambushed Israeli troops, attacked them with anti-armour missiles and several short-range rockets. 

The heavy fighting comes amid intensifying Israeli artillery bombardment and air strikes across the Gaza Strip. 

According to Palestinian reports, shelling has hit Beit Lahia in the north, Gaza City, Maghazi refugee camp and al-Mughraqa town in the central district, Abasan in Khan Younis, and Rafah. 

Many have been reported killed and wounded, though the Gaza health ministry has yet to provide a death toll update. 

//

The Qassam Brigades said it killed and wounded several Israeli soldiers in a “complex and simultaneous” operation in eastern Rafah. 

The armed group said a building containing Israeli troops was hit with a shoulder-launched missile before infantry and an armoured personnel carrier nearby were also struck. 

Rafah invasion: With defeat in sight, how can Netanyahu declare victory?
Read More »

Other attacks across Rafah included blowing up a minefield, firing at three tanks, and bombing the Kerem Shalom and Sufa military sites with rockets and mortar bombs, according to the Qassam Brigades. 

Similarly intense fighting was reported in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City, where the Israeli military announced its third ground assault there earlier this week. 

Other armed groups in Gaza also said they were clashing with Israeli troops in Rafah's east and Zeitoun. 

Hebrew media said military helicopters were spotted transporting casualties from Gaza to Israeli hospitals on Friday amid heavy fighting and a “complicated incident”, without elaborating. 

The Israeli military said earlier in the morning that troops were engaged in “close-quarters combat” in Rafah and that they killed “several gunmen”. 

It later said four soldiers were killed in the Zeitoun neighbourhood alone by an explosive device. 

Palestinian groups did not immediately comment on reports of casualties.

Middle East Eye could not independently verify the announcements made by either side. 

Separately, the Israeli military said 12 Israeli soldiers were evacuated for treatment after being stung by wasps in the southern Gaza Strip. 

Crossings closed 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian border and crossing authority in Gaza denied US claims that the Kerem Shalom crossing, which lies between the enclave and Israel, has been open for aid. 

In a statement on Thursday, it said both the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which was captured by Israeli forces from the Palestinian side earlier this week, remain shut. 

//

It added that no aid has entered the Gaza Strip since Tuesday, including vital fuel supplies and medicine. 

The continued closure of the crossings has raised alarm among aid workers over the humanitarian repercussions. 

Aid operations could shut within days due to dwindling food and fuel stocks, United Nations aid agencies said on Friday.

The situation has reached "even more unprecedented levels of emergency," said Georgios Petropoulos, the head of the Gaza sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

'For five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip, and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel'

- Hamish Young, UN Gaza emergency coordinator

Hamish Young, senior emergency coordinator in the Gaza Strip for the UN's children's agency, said at a virtual briefing: "For five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip, and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

"This is already a huge issue for the population and for all humanitarian actors but in a matter of days, if not corrected, the lack of fuel could grind humanitarian operations to a halt," he added.

The administration of al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital said it would cease operations within 48 hours if it doesn't receive more fuel. 

The hospital in central Gaza's Deir al-Balah is the last remaining big medical facility in the Gaza Strip after al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals were destroyed by Israel. 

“We urge UN bodies and international institutions to supply fuel to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital as soon as possible before it is too late,” the hospital said in a statement. 

“We call for immediate and urgent intervention to supply all hospitals with fuel and to rehabilitate and restore them before a humanitarian disaster occurs that takes out the lives of thousands of people.” 

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday that civilians in Gaza were “being starved and killed” while aid agencies were “prevented from helping them”.

“Our supplies are stuck. Our teams are stuck,” he posted on X. 

”This is Gaza today, even after 7 months of horrors.”

Hamas steps up Gaza fighting as aid runs out under Israeli blockade

Mandela’s grandson rebukes Labour's Lammy for Gaza protest criticism

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 11:43
Mandela’s grandson rebukes Labour's Lammy for Gaza protest criticism
Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela says the UK shadow foreign secretary should stop being 'an apologist for the ongoing genocide' and heed his grandfather's words
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 12:43
David Lammy addresses delegates on the second day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, on 9 October, 2023 (AFP)
David Lammy addresses delegates on the second day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, on 9 October 2023 (AFP)

Late South African president Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, has rebuked statements by the UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy about pro-Palestine protests taking place in US universities.

In a statement posted online, Mandela’s grandson said Lammy should stop being “an apologist for genocide and instead encourage all students on UK and European university campuses to emulate their fellow students in the USA in their call for a ceasefire in Gaza and support the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom”.

The South African MP's remarks come after Lammy, who is likely to become foreign secretary if Labour wins the UK general election held later this year, suggested Nelson Mandela would not have been supportive of the ongoing largely nonviolent student protests in opposition to Israel's war on Gaza.

“There is a difference between peaceful protest of the kind Mandela would have advocated, and violence and rioting," Lammy said while addressing US Republicans in Washington.

But Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela rejected these remarks and said Lammy should echo his grandfather's “commitment to the Palestinian struggle which he affirmed during his visit to Gaza in 1995", and his statement that: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people."

//

Mandela's grandson noted that Lammy himself was of that generation of South African youth “who called for the armed struggle in the face of increasing state brutality in dealing with a peaceful protest against Apartheid”.

Nelson Mandela led the movement against apartheid in South Africa, spending a total of 27 years in prison. He initially advocated armed resistance against the white supremacist system.

Other remarks Lammy made in Washington have drawn criticism.

The shadow foreign secretary questioned why pro-Palestinian protesters were silent about other crises in the world, saying: "I am outraged at what is happening to ordinary folk in Sudan, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Yemen, in Haiti. Why are we really not up in arms about these issues as well?"

He added: “I say gently to those who concentrate singly on a very ancient and terrible, terrible war that is taking place in Gaza: but let us not crowd out a lot of people suffering in our world today and underlining that the US and UK have to stand firm on so many fronts today.”

However, people on social media condemned Lammy for bringing up other issues that he seems to have barely mentioned before, and his characterisation of the conflict as "ancient".

British-Palestinians struggle to help families trapped in limbo after fleeing Gaza

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 10:56
British-Palestinians struggle to help families trapped in limbo after fleeing Gaza
Despite having evacuated families from Gaza, British-Palestinians are still struggling to bring them to the UK without a Ukraine style visa scheme
Katherine Hearst Fri, 05/10/2024 - 11:56
Yousef Alkhatib is battling to bring his nephew, who is being treated for severe injuries in Egypt, to the UK (Yousef Alkhatib)
Yousef Alkhatib is battling to bring his nephew, who is being treated for severe injuries in Egypt, to the UK (Yousef Alkhatib)

On 15 March, Yousef Alkhatib’s home in Nuseirat, central Gaza was targeted by a missile strike, killing his father, mother, brother, sister in law and five children.

Amer, Alkhatib’s 13-year-old nephew, was the only family member to survive the blast. He escaped with a skull fracture, a brain haemorrhage and severe burns to his face, requiring skin grafts.

Amer was evacuated by the charity Children not Numbers to a hospital in Ismailia, west of the Suez Canal.

Alkhatib, a Palestinian resident in the UK, is struggling to bring him over to the UK, but there is no existing visa route for him to do so, as he is not Amer’s father.

Lacking a Ukraine-style visa scheme, Palestinians resident in the UK wishing to reunite with their family must apply through existing family reunion visa routes, which are prolonged, costly and often exclude siblings, parents of adult children and extended family.

//

Alkhatib has hired a lawyer to make Amer’s application, submitting reams of documents to support his case. However, once it is submitted they must endure a protracted wait for a decision from the Home Office.

'All of his family have been killed. So is he supposed to live by himself?'

- Yousef Alkhatib

“All of his family have been killed. So is he supposed to live by himself?” Alkhatib said.

“Its unimaginable that we would keep this kid in Egypt for two or three months just waiting for the Home Office’s decision,” Alkhatib told MEE.

Should Amer’s application be rejected, he will either have to live in Egypt on his own, or return to Gaza.

“It’s unreasonable for a 13-year-old child to live by himself or to [go] back to Gaza, where all the memories and all the suffering will keep visiting him each night…which will make his life actually unbearable,” Alkhatib said.

In exile

Shahd Abusalama, a British-Palestinian academic at Sheffield Hallam University, came to the UK in 2014 to study.

She applied for British citizenship in 2016, and was finally awarded it in June 2023.

Throughout these seven years, Abusalama could not get a visa for her parents to visit, not even for her graduation ceremony, despite having a visa support letter from her university.

“They missed every event in my life, and I missed every event in theirs,” Abusalama told MEE.

“It felt like I was in exile, and forced to separate with my family who were locked in besieged Gaza. I was unable to visit them, they're unable to visit me and I'm surviving between here and there.”

'I was hoping that finally I would become more of a human with a British document but I continue to face the same dehumanisation'

- Shahd Abusalama, British-Palestinian academic

Not long after Israel’s current war on Gaza began, Abusalama lost 22 members of her family in an Israeli air strike on Jabalia refugee camp on 22 October.

She managed to get her immediate family out of Gaza last month after paying hefty fees, raised through crowdfunding, to an Egyptian travel agency. Her parents are now in Barcelona, and her siblings and nieces in Egypt. Her extended family are still trapped in northern Gaza.

Abusalama has tried to bring them to the UK, but, despite her citizenship status, she has been unsuccessful, as her parents and siblings are not considered “immediate”  family under Home Office guidelines.

She wrote to her local MP multiple times about her case, receiving only generic responses.

“I was hoping that finally I would become more of a human with a British document but I continue to face the same dehumanisation,” she said.

"My parents and my siblings could have died in Gaza...they are my immediate family. They are my only family."

Stuck in the system

Prior to a ruling at a UK court in April, Home Office guidelines required applicants to enrol biometric information at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) before submitting a visa application. As Gaza’s VAC is closed, the nearest is in Cairo, which is impossible for many Palestinians in Gaza to reach.

The court ruling found that the Home Office’s refusal to consider visa applications without prior biometric enrollment was "irrational and unreasonable", and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

UK Home Office revokes visa of Palestinian student after protest speech
Read More »

But for many Palestinians trying to flee Gaza, this ruling only allows them to overcome the first hurdle in a torturous and labyrinthine application process.

“There's a lot of people who are really desperately wanting to be reunited with family members, but the process is so arduous even if you are applying from Egypt and didn't apply from Gaza,” Juliane Heider, a solicitor for the Islington Law Centre told MEE.

While the Home Office gives standard timeframes for the application process, they do not specify a set timeframe for individual applications.

“Our experience is that these kinds of applications can easily be stuck in the system for many months,” Heider said.

She explained that even in cases in which highly expedited timeframes were achieved, clients whose applications started six months ago have still not got final outcomes.

For many Palestinians, staying in Egypt indefinitely is not an option.

Palestinians who have arrived in Egypt without a visa are granted permission to stay for 72 hours. This can be extended, but not in all cases, with people granted varying lengths of time depending on their gender and age.

//

A painstaking process

For Heider, UK immigration guidelines for family reunification are too restrictive and do not take into account expansive family ties for many Palestinians.

“What we see from our cases is that family relationships in Gaza are quite different. You might have an aunt or uncle who is a bit like a parent, or, you might be an older sibling looking after younger siblings,” she said.

“It doesn’t fit into a western way of thinking about families, and that’s where people are running into difficulties.”

'Neglected and abandoned': British-Palestinians fight to bring family from Gaza to UK
Read More »

Palestinians seeking to be joined by extended relatives have to make visa applications on the basis of Article 8 of the ECHR which protects the right to family and private life. 

Applicants need to pass a legal test demonstrating not “more than the normal emotional ties” to the family member, a degree of dependency.

There isn’t a direct rule under the immigration rules under which applications can be made, and so there isn’t one form or any one place where the process and the requirements are written down. 

“It doesn't compute that when the situation is so acute, that the process and evidence requirements won’t change,” Heider said. 

“It's very frustrating because there is a way to use the law and what we're trying to do is operationalise what exists, but the process requires painstaking work and a lot of energetic input in terms of what it asks of the people in it, and also in terms of how long it takes them, and what the outcomes would be.”

On 13 May Parliament will debate a petition calling for the UK Government to introduce a scheme that would allow Palestinians from Gaza to reunite with their families in the UK.

The petition was supported by the Gaza Families Reunited Campaign, a grassroots campaign  calling for the UK government to introduce a Gaza Family Scheme that would offer sanctuary for Palestinians with UK-based family members.

Netanyahu vows to ‘fight with fingernails’ after Biden's arms supply warning

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 09:43
Netanyahu vows to ‘fight with fingernails’ after Biden's arms supply warning
Israeli prime minister says his country can 'stand alone' in the war on Gaza as his forces enter Rafah
MEE staff Fri, 05/10/2024 - 10:43
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day on 5 May.(afp)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day on 5 May (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is ready to “stand alone” and “fight with fingernails” in Gaza, rebuffing a US warning that arms supplies would be withheld if a planned large-scale operation in the southern city of Rafah is carried out.

"If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than our fingernails, and with that strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we shall be victorious," he said.

Dismissing the US threat, Netanyahu also referred to the 1948 war that created Israel, saying that it was “victorious” despite being fought by a “few against the many…and did not have weapons”.

Yoav Gallant, Israeli defence minister, echoed Netanyahu’s remarks, saying that "enemies as well as ... best of friends" should know that Israel "cannot be subdued".

"We will stand strong, we will achieve our goals," Gallant said.

//

On Monday evening, Israel started an invasion of Rafah, seizing the border crossing that links Gaza with Egypt. The UN says that more than 110,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since then.

US President Joe Biden had urged Israel not to carry out its operation in Rafah, the most crowded part in southern Gaza, where over a million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge from Israeli attacks.

He said Washington will stop supplying Israel, a close ally, with arms if it carried on with plans to invade Rafah.

"If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah," he said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

The US has already put on hold the supply of 1,800 2,000lb (907kg) bombs and 1,700 500lb bombs to Israel over fears they could be used on Rafah.

Biden also told CNN the US would suspend further supplies of artillery shells and other arms.

War on Gaza: UK holds firm on arms exports to Israel after Biden threatens halt
Read More »

US national security spokesman John Kirby said Biden doesn’t think that “smashing into Rafah” would achieve Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas.

In reaction, Israel’s senior military spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, has downplayed the US warnings.

“The army has munitions for the missions it plans and for the missions in Rafah too… We have what we need,” he said.

Reacting to Biden’s warnings also, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted on X a heart emoji between"Hamas" and "Biden".

More than a million Palestinians headed to the southern city after Israel ordered them to move to the south, telling them it is a "safe" area. Rafah has been bombed repeatedly by Israel over recent weeks, with strikes intensifying since Monday.

The Israeli operation on Monday came shortly after Hamas made a surprise announcement that it accepted a ceasefire agreement proposed by Qatar and Egypt.

After Hamas accepted the ceasefire proposal, the United Nations and several countries in the region welcomed the decision and called on Israel to reciprocate and accept a cessation of the fighting. 

However Israel rejected the deal and launched the Rafah offensive.

UK: Cambridge University academics and staff endorse Gaza student protest

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 09:14
UK: Cambridge University academics and staff endorse Gaza student protest
More than 1,700 Cambridge staff, alumni, and students have signed an open letter expressing support for the Cambridge students who have launched an encampment
Imran Mullah Fri, 05/10/2024 - 10:14
A Gaza solidarity encampment was set up outside Cambridge's iconic King's Parade on 6 May 2024 (Imran Mulla/MEE)

More than 1,700 staff, alumni, and students from the University of Cambridge have signed an open letter expressing support for protesters who set up a protest encampment earlier this week that calls on the university to end any potential complicity in Israel's war on Gaza.

On Monday, around a hundred students gathered outside Cambridge's King's College, where they erected tents and demanded the institution commit to divesting from companies involved in Israel's war. 

They joined students at over a hundred universities worldwide who have set up similar protest movements.

The encampment's organisers told Middle East Eye they are demanding that Cambridge University discloses all its relationships with companies and institutions "complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine".

They said they want the university to end all such relationships, support Palestinian students and academics - and commit to protecting academic freedom. 

//

The open letter, written by a group of Cambridge academics and published on Thursday, expresses "solidarity with Cambridge students as they launch an encampment protesting the university’s ties to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza".

The letter says that the protesting students "join an admirable tradition of emancipatory struggle that includes earlier student protests against South African apartheid and the war in Vietnam".

The academics also expressed support for "our students’ right to free expression and protest" and praised their "courage in bringing urgent debates outside of the classroom environment to intervene in a catastrophic moment where we are witnessing the erosion of human rights and democratic principles."

The letter comes after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak summoned the vice-chancellors of 17 universities to an "antisemitism roundtable" at Downing Street and urged them to take "personal responsibility" for protecting Jewish students. 

A student group called Cambridge Jews for Palestine forms a prominent contingent in the ongoing encampment at Cambridge.

On Monday, MEE recorded a video tour of the encampment led by a Jewish student, who explained that "on my head, I'm wearing a Kippah, because I believe that right now I am carrying out a religious action.

"It is my religious duty to speak out against the genocide being carried out in my name, as a Jew."

A Jewish student at Cambridge University gives MEE a tour of the Cambridge Encampment for Gaza.

“There's many of us here in Cambridge. Jews who believe that it is our duty, to speak out against the genocide that is being, carried out in our name, by the Israeli state” pic.twitter.com/3KgNuebyT4

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 8, 2024

Cambridge sent a letter to its students and staff on Wednesday affirming that the institution "is fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and we acknowledge the right to protest. We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with understanding and empathy. Our priority is the safety of all staff and students.

//

"We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any other form of racial or religious hatred."

Earlier this year, MEE reported that Trinity, the University of Cambridge's wealthiest college, had £61,735 ($78,089) invested in Israel's largest arms company, Elbit Systems, which produces 85 percent of the drones and land-based equipment used by the Israeli army.

MEE also revealed, based on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that the college also has investments worth approximately $3.2m (£2.5m) in Caterpillar, a US-based heavy equipment company that has long been the target of boycott campaigns for its sale of bulldozers to the Israeli army, and multiple other companies involved in Israel's war - including General Electric, Toyota Corporation, Rolls-Royce, Barclays Bank, and L3Harris Industries.

Following this, in February, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians issued a legal notice to Trinity College warning that its investments could make it potentially complicit in Israeli war crimes.

Since the events of 7 October, when a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel killed 1,150 and resulted in more than 200 people being taken back to Gaza as hostages, the Strip has been under total siege and deprived of basic necessities while facing a devastating bombing campaign by Israel.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and around 1.7m displaced, in what has been described at the International Court of Justice in January as a plausible genocide.

Nearly 77,000 people have also been wounded, according to health officials. The figures exclude tens of thousands of dead who are believed to be buried in the bombed-out ruins of homes, shops, shelters, and other buildings.

Cambridge University academics and staff endorse Gaza student protest

Gay and trans Iraqis plagued by threats, violence - and now the law

Fri, 05/10/2024 - 09:10
Gay and trans Iraqis plagued by threats, violence - and now the law
Iraq's vulnerable LGBTQ+ community gripped by fear as Iraq criminalises same-sex relations
Azhar Al-Rubaie Fri, 05/10/2024 - 10:10
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn a poster depicting an LGBTQ+ flag during a protest in Karbala on 29 June 2023, denouncing the burning of the Quran in Sweden (AFP)

Karrar, a 23-year-old unemployed gay Iraqi living in Babylon, finds himself paralysed by fear. The Iraqi government recently criminalised homosexuality and transgender identities, pushing the already-vulnerable LGBTQ+ community further into an unknown fate.

As anti-LGBTQ+ measures take effect, Karrar* is now contemplating relocation or seeking asylum, feeling the urgency to escape his own home.

"The intensity of hatred directed at the LGBTQ+ community still shocks me. People here seem to perceive us as a plague, worthy of violent eradication,” he told Middle East Eye.

"Previously, I could maintain some semblance of privacy, but now even that feels perilous," he said.

Even before the new measures were enacted, violence and threats against LGBTQ+ people pervaded Iraq. Still, Karrar said he was still able to maintain some semblance of privacy, something he feels he can no longer do.

//

"For my digital safety, I have adopted a low profile, avoiding dating apps and new acquaintances. I also adhere to social norms in my appearance and presentation," he said.

Late last month, the Iraqi parliament, despite international pressure, quietly passed several amendments to the anti-prostitution law that could see LGBTQ+ people imprisoned for up to 15 years for same-sex activity.

'People here seem to perceive us as a plague, worthy of violent eradication'

- Karrar, gay Iraqi

Under the new law, gender-affirming surgeries, a vital step for many transgender individuals, are now punishable by three years in prison for both the patient and the medical professional involved. 

The first draft of the amended law included the death penalty, but the clause did not make it to the voting floor due to wide rejection by many figures, local and international NGOs, observers and even MPs. 

An Iraqi lawmaker told MEE, on condition of anonymity, that he and other parliamentarians had exerted pressure for the "harsh sentence" to be removed from all recent amendments.

Notably, the law also criminalises individuals deemed to be behaving in an "effeminate manner", with a sentence of one to three years in prison, further blurring the lines of acceptable expression.

'I fear for my life'

Human rights organisations have swiftly condemned the legislation, highlighting its blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and the devastating impact it will have on the LGBTQ+ community. The law not only criminalises individuals for their identities but also paves the way for further discrimination and potential violence.

The situation for LGBTQ+ individuals in Iraq was already dangerous, marked by societal rejection and a constant threat of violence. The tragic case of Doski Azad, a transgender woman murdered by her own brother two years ago, serves as a chilling reminder of the deadly dangers faced by the marginalised group.

Iraq: Murder of trans Kurdish woman sparks anger among activists
Read More »

Hayden*, a 22-year-old Najaf-based queer, said that although the threat against the community has long been prevalent, they still found the move by the parliament to be "shocking", considering the potential international repercussions.

"With this new law, the authorities seem to be pulling off a media stunt to gain popularity, especially since people here are emotionally influenced by laws tied to religion and social customs. Now, I fear for my life even more due to this strict law," said Hayden, whose pronouns are they/them.

"I do not know how I will continue living without being at risk simply because I am queer."

Hayden said they have taken a number of precautions to protect themselves online. They monitor their followers online, have unfollowed queer people on social media and deleted any posts that hint at their sexual orientation.

"This is to avoid being targeted by militias that have been killing us even before this law. However, this law now provides legal cover for further violence against us," Hayden said.

"If I feel that danger is getting closer to my life, I will consider travelling to a neighbouring country that does not require a difficult visa process to ensure my safety."

The amendments to the anti-prostitution law will not be applied in the Kurdistan Region unless the Kurdish parliament votes to approve them, Dana Dara, the Kurdish parliament"s legal adviser told Rudaw, an Erbil-based media outlet.

The Kurdish legislature operates independently and thus has the authority to accept or reject laws passed by the Iraqi parliament.

Harshest penalties in the world

Ali, a director of Gala Iraq, told MEE: "The Iraqi government's decision marks the culmination of prolonged campaigns of hatred and demonisation targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community in Iraq over the past two years."

'The world is changing': Iraqi LGBT group takes campaign to streets
Read More »

Gala Iraq is an Iraqi intersectional platform dedicated to members of the LGBTQ+ community in the region in general and Iraq in particular. Following enacting of the law, it published safety measures that LGBTQ+ people can follow to protect themselves physically and legally, including erasing indications of queerness from phones and social media, and keeping emergency money at hand in case they needed to flee.

"This unprecedented parliamentary step in post-Saddam dictatorship Iraq represents the pinnacle of these hate campaigns, culminating in the enactment of an explicit law that directly criminalises LGBTQ+ individuals with some of the harshest penalties in the world," said Ali, who wanted to be identified only by his first name. 

"In fact, requests for assistance and protection had been pouring in even before this law. The situation in Iraq has always been dire for the LGBTQ+ community, who face all forms of violence - murder, rape, kidnapping, extortion and more. Since the law's passage, however, the number of people contacting us has skyrocketed."

Fear of being targeted is also being felt among LGBTQ+ Iraqis living abroad, casting a shadow over their long-held dreams of returning home or visiting loved ones.

Bash, an Iraqi artist and LGBTQ+ activist residing in Germany, told MEE: "Returning or even visiting my country for a vacation has become an impossible dream."

Bash fled home to Germany in 2015, seeking the freedom that he is deprived of in his country. 

"Iraqi decision makers follow cross-border orders, mainly from Iran, to enact such laws. It is not new for the government to impose such laws restricting freedoms and violating human rights."

'Returning or even visiting my country for a vacation has become an impossible dream,' says Bash, an Iraqi artist and LGBTQ+ activist based in Berlin (Sebastian Backhaus/MEE)
"Returning or even visiting my country for a vacation has become an impossible dream," says Bash, an Iraqi artist and LGBTQ+ activist based in Berlin (Sebastian Backhaus/MEE)

//

//

He points to the period of openness and development that Iraq has been recently witnessing, which clashes with what he calls the regress approach of the law.

"Iraq desperately needs critical decisions that improve people's lives and provide them with a decent standard of living. However, the government insists on neglecting these priorities in favour of enacting laws that restrict freedom," Bash said.

Bash compares his experience in Germany, where he lives safely and exercises his freedom without fear of intrusion and repercussions, to what he had faced in Iraq from harassment and hatred even after his migration. 

'Noose around my neck'

Mary*, a 25-year-old transwoman and writer living in Iraq, said: "As a person who lives in a country where there are at least 70 militias, you cannot specifically predict where the threats are coming from. Now that the law has been enacted, threats will come from everywhere.

'The law has not left me any space to breathe'

- Mary, transwoman and writer

"Last year when I was sitting in a cafe, someone I knew leaned over my head and whispered in my ear: 'Shave your hair, before they [militias] shave it for you'. This makes me feel unsafe even in my own room."

Mary said that following the changes in the law, she has thought of quitting her job writing feature articles focusing on LGBTQ+ rights, despite it being the only profession she's able physically to perform after suffering from domestic abuse that had left her with severe back injury.

"The danger does not lie only in sexual orientation. The source of danger does not assume what your orientation is, but rather makes assumptions based on non-normative sexual behaviour and identity," she said. 

"Based on the law, publishing a song by a gay singer on social media or sharing a scene from a movie of gay people kissing may also be considered promoting homosexuality and put me in prison for seven years."

Mary is now considering leaving Iraq and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her raise the money she needs to move to France, where she believes she could thrive as a transwoman, a writer, poet and performance artist.

"Continuing to write means that I will be more active, which is what attracts attention to me. Quitting writing and looking for another job will make me visible, which will make me more vulnerable to being non-standard and I will be accused of 'effeminateness'," she said.

"The law has not left me any space to breathe, as it is now tightening the noose around my neck."

*Names have been changed to safeguard identities.

Unrwa closing Jerusalem headquarters after Israeli settler arson attacks

Thu, 05/09/2024 - 21:26
Unrwa closing Jerusalem headquarters after Israeli settler arson attacks
Commissioner general calls for investigation, saying premises should be protected under international law
MEE staff Thu, 05/09/2024 - 22:26
Right-wing Israeli protesters gather with flags and banners outside the West Bank field office of Unrwa in Jerusalem on 20 March 2024.
Right-wing Israeli protesters gather with flags and banners outside the West Bank field office of Unrwa in Jerusalem, on 20 March (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

A group of Israeli settlers on Thursday launched several attacks on the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) in East Jerusalem, setting fire to the perimeter of the building.

According to the Palestinian news outlet Wafa, the settlers burned trees and grass on the building's property, which is located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The news outlet reported, citing eyewitnesses, that Unrwa staff members were present at the headquarters, and worked to put out the fire and stop it from spreading. Meanwhile, Israeli security forces reportedly were present at the site but didn't prevent the settlers from starting the fires, according to Wafa.

There were no injuries reported, however, the fire caused extensive damage to the property, according to Unrwa.

Video footage shared on social media shows several fires surrounding the building, with a group of Israelis cheering in the background.

//

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of Unrwa, said that the attack has forced him to shut down the compound, given the ongoing security risk to staff members of the UN agency.

“Our director with the help of other staff had to put out the fire themselves as it took the Israeli fire extinguishers and police a while before they turned up,” said Lazzarini.

"This is an outrageous development. Once again, the lives of UN staff were at serious risk.

Israelis set fire twice today to the perimeter of the Unrwa headquarters in Jerusalem. There were no casualties among the staff, but the fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor area. pic.twitter.com/h7WwYxKpb3

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) May 9, 2024

"In light of this second appalling incident in less than a week, I have taken the decision to close down our compound until proper security is restored."

The attack comes just two days after a group of settlers attacked the same Unrwa headquarters on Tuesday, and comes after months of protests outside of the building by far-right Israeli settlers.

Lazzarini called for an investigation into the attacks, saying that UN staff, property, and operations "should be protected at all times in line with international law".

"The perpetrators of these attacks must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable," he said.

"Anything less will set a new dangerous standard."

//

Israeli settler violence

Since Israel's war in Gaza, which came in response to the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, Israeli forces have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza and levelled civilian infrastructure in the enclave.

During this time, far-right Israeli settlers have increased attacks on Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Since October, Israel's military has summoned 5,500 settlers who are Israeli army reservists, including some with criminal records of violence against Palestinians, and assigned them to serve in "regional defence" battalions in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities have also distributed 7,000 guns to battalion members and others, including "civilian security squads" established in settlements, according to Haaretz and Israeli rights groups.

The UN's humanitarian office has reported at least 800 Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians since October, which have resulted in either casualties or property damage.

A report from Human Rights Watch last month said that violent settler attacks in the West Bank have displaced Palestinians from 20 communities and have "entirely uprooted at least seven communities since October 7, 2023".

The US and the UK have issued sanctions on several Israeli settlers who have engaged in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, but attacks have continued.

Columbia University alumni pledge to withhold financial support over Gaza war

Thu, 05/09/2024 - 18:22
Columbia University alumni pledge to withhold financial support over Gaza war
Alumni demand the removal of the university's president as well as targeted economic divestment from Israel
MEE staff Thu, 05/09/2024 - 19:22
Pro-Palestinian protesters occupy a building where they had established an encampment at Fordham University Lincoln Center campus on 1 May 2024 in New York City.
Pro-Palestinian protesters occupy a building where they had established an encampment at Fordham University Lincoln Center campus on 1 May 2024 in New York City (Spencer Platt/AFP)

Columbia University alumni have signed a letter pledging to withhold "all financial, programmatic, and academic support" to the university until a list of 13 demands is met. 

"Columbia University maintains an undisclosed number of investments with entities known to fund or profit from the Israeli military occupation, meaning that Columbia is financially and morally enabling the ongoing indiscriminate killing of Palestinians," the letter, addressed to President Nemat Minouche Shafik and the Trustees of Columbia University, begins. 

Over 1,600 alumni had signed the letter at the time of writing. The website where the letter is posted updates new signatories and has a financial contribution ticker at the bottom, which at the time of publishing, reads: $68,354,601 financial contributions at risk. Just hours earlier, the number was around $41m.

In the letter, the signatories demand divestment from "all companies and institutions that fund or profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine", the release of a statement calling for a permanent ceasefire, and that all charges against student activists are dropped. 

The signatories also demanded the university finance the healthcare needed for the students "brutalized by the NYPD on April 30, 2024" and the removal of Shafik from her position as university president.

//

Within the context of the months-long Gaza solidarity protests and encampments at US universities, Columbia University has faced some of the most extreme measures, with law enforcement forcefully entering parts of the campus, tearing down encampments and assaulting protesters. 

"Students - who paid $1.53 billion in tuition last year alone - are rightfully demanding that they have a say in where that money goes. We are in full support of Columbia University divesting from Israel, and we are beyond appalled at how far University administration has gone to protect their investments at the expense of student safety and intellectual inquiry," the letter reads. 

'The University must now act boldly in support of Palestinian life and liberation'

- Alumni letter

The letter reminds the administration that the student body "overwhelmingly" passed a divestment resolution earlier this year with over 70 percent of voter support, and how the university has a history of protests reaching back to Apartheid-era South Africa and the Vietnam War. 

The alumni initiative isn't the first or only such initiative to pressure universities in the US with alumni contributions. At New York University earlier this year, hundreds of alumni pledged to withhold more than $3m worth of potential contributions from the institution's largest fundraising day over its suppression of students and faculty organising against what they called Israel's "genocide" in Gaza.

"We launched this campaign as a signal to the administration to drop its repression on campus," a spokesperson for NYU Alumni for Palestine told Middle East Eye in a previous article.

"We will hold [NYU President Linda Mills] accountable through public, financial, and other pressures until we see that all suppressions are dropped and all individuals who have been terminated or expelled are reinstated," the spokesperson said.

The Columbia alumni letter concludes with: "The University must now act boldly in support of Palestinian life and liberation - a sentiment echoed throughout Columbia’s own Core Curriculum, scholarship, and purported values. Anything less is a betrayal of the core lessons we were taught at Columbia University."

Violence against protesters

Middle East Eye revealed earlier this week through testimony from several witnesses that the New York Police Department assaulted a number of students and then blocked those injured students from accessing medical assistance at two New York university campuses where hundreds were part of Gaza solidarity encampments.

Evidence of police violence emerged after university administrators ordered a sweep on the evening of 30 April local time at two New York City campuses, Columbia University and City College of New York (CCNY), in what has now become a nationwide story of police repression of student protests for Palestine. 

At CCNY in West Harlem, students were sprayed with mace and pepper spray. Others were beaten with batons and were tackled to the ground. Student protesters suffered burns, broken bones, concussions and broken teeth.

One medic, who asked not to be named, told Middle East Eye for an earlier article that police blocked them from offering assistance to the injured. 

A notoriously violent counter-terror battalion of the NYPD, padded in riot gear and known as the Special Response Group (SRG), entered the campuses and beat protesters.

The SRG's role in the disbanding of student protests at Columbia and CCNY is likely to raise eyebrows, given that it came just days before City Hall was to hold a hearing about breaking up the unit. 

//

"Established in 2015, the unit is known for its misconduct, racial bias, and abuse of protesters. Initially created for counter-terrorism, the SRG quickly morphed into the violent protest policing unit it is today," the New York Civil Liberties Union said in 2023.

At CCNY, a college associated with the City University of New York (Cuny), the largest urban public university in the country, the SRG were sent to the campus to raid and dismantle the encampment after the college's president, Vincent Boudreau, declared a state of emergency.

In response to the violence last week, Cuny's pre-law clinic released a statement on Sunday in which it described the police action as "unrelentless violence, with chemical irritants being aimlessly sprayed, people being tasered while handcuffed, elderly women being hit with batons, hundreds of people being 'kettled' and pressed against store fronts and scaffolding ... Muslim women having their hijabs ripped from their hair, a Jewish man had their kippa knocked off their head, and over 170 arrests were made by NYPD and the Goon Squad, to name a few," the statement read.

"There was literal blood and broken teeth on the ground," said the statement.

Gaza: Where is Rafah - and why does it matter?

Thu, 05/09/2024 - 14:12
Gaza: Where is Rafah - and why does it matter?
Home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, it has historic links with Sinai and Egypt – but is now targeted by Israel
Rayhan Uddin Thu, 05/09/2024 - 15:12
A Palestinian child looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 5 May (Reuters/Hatem Khaled)
A Palestinian child looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, 5 May (Reuters/Hatem Khaled)

Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, is under siege and constant attacks, despite Israel declaring it a safe zone last year.

Before 7 October, the city, which spans just 64 km2, was already overpopulated and wracked by poverty and harsh living conditions due to the Israeli blockade, which began in 2007. Since then, Israel has driven Palestinians from northern and central Gaza towards the south: as a result, Rafah's population has grown fourfold to an estimated 1.5m people. 

The people in Rafah are now living in a cramped, makeshift tent city. Many are Palestinian refugees who have already been displaced multiple times.  

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned multiple times during the current war that Israel will launch a ground invasion despite international protestations.  Aid groups and analysts have told Middle East Eye that it will create a humanitarian catastrophe, and could pave the way for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt's Sinai. 

It is but the latest fate to befall a city that has been swapped between ancient and medieval empires and dynasties over the centuries, including being cut in half in the early years of the 20th century by the British and Ottoman Empires.

//

Where is Rafah? What is its history?

Rafah is at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip and the only crossing between the enclave and Sinai, which is part of Egypt.

The city is more than 3,000 years old and emerged as an oasis. What is now modern Rafah first appeared in ancient Egyptian inscriptions dating back to the 13th century BCE: it was called "Robihwa" by the ancient Egyptians, "Raphia" by the Greeks and Romans centuries later, "Rafiah" by the Israelites and finally "Rafah" by Arabs. 

rafah gaza map

It was the location of the Battle of Raphia in 217 BCE, between the armies of Ptolemy IV, the Greek king and pharaoh of Egypt, and Antiochus III of the Greek Seleucid Empire.

One of the biggest battles of its era, it involved around 150,000 fighters and nearly 200 elephants.  The conflict was over the Coele Syria region, which is now part of modern Syria and Lebanon.  A few decades later, in 193 BCE, Raphia was where Seleucid princess Cleopatra I married Ptolemy V.

Rafah was later briefly ruled by the Hasmonean kingdom, after being conquered by Hellenistic Jewish king Yannai Alexander. It then fell into Roman hands for about seven centuries.

In 635, in the early years of Islamic, the armies of the Rashidun Caliphate captured the city from the Byzantines. It was then ruled by Muslim dynasties, including the Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Ottomans. During the early centuries of Muslim rule, Rafah was known as a resting station for travelling merchants, and had hotels, shops, a market and a mosque, according to 11th-century historians.

Jewish communities also thrived between the ninth and 12th centuries, but most eventually left to neighbouring Ashkelon, now in modern Israel.

When was Rafah divided?

In 1906, Rafah was part of the Ottoman Empire. But relations between Istanbul, its seat of power, and the British Empire, which had interests in the region, became increasingly tense.

It began when Egyptian police attempted to build outposts in Taba, which now lies on the southern border between Egypt and modern-day Israel. The Ottoman Empire asserted its rights: London, fearing that an ally of Germany might ultimately threaten the Suez Canal, sent an ultimatum. Istanbul backed down and new boundaries were dran, which to the north cut through Rafah.

//

A decade later, during the Arab Revolt and the fall of the Ottoman empire, Rafah fell into British hands. According to statistics from the British Mandate in Palestine, there were 599 people in Rafah in 1922, rising to 2,220 by 1945. All these inhabitants were thought to be Muslims.

How big is the refugee camp in Rafah?

During the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, 750,00 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Zionist militias to make way for the newly created state of Israel. At that point, the Gaza Strip came under Egyptian control, and the 1906 division of Rafah remained.

In 1949, the Rafah refugee camp was established to house displaced Palestinian refugees. As of July 2023, there are 133,326 refugees officially registered in the camp by Unrwa, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, although the actual number is likely much higher.

The camp, at 1.2km2, is one of the most densely populated areas in the occupied Palestinian territories. Before 7 Ocotber, it housed 18 UN-run schools, two health facilities and two social services centres. 

Has Israel occupied Rafah before?

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Israel subsequently occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Syria's Golan Heights.

Israel also occupied the Sinai, which was Egyptian territory. The border between the two countries now effectively became the Suez Canal, almost 200km to the west. The Rafah border came down and people in Gaza and Sinai were reconnected until 1982.

In March 1979, the US-brokered Egypt–Israel peace treaty was signed in Washington by President of Egypt Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel. Sinai fully returned to Egypt three years later, the Rafah border was re-erected and has remained in place since, again along the lines of the 1906 boundary.

//

The border cut through streets, neighbourhoods and farmland, leaving people to decide: do I live in Egypt or in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip? 

In one anecdote, a Rafah municipal leader had two wives, one on the Egyptian side of the border and another in Gaza.  A pharmacist from Rafah told the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1982: "During four wars there has been no destruction in Rafah. But with peace, damage and destruction will occur. It is a very hard thing."

Since then, families divided by the redrawing of the boundary have not been able to visit each other. Rafah is one of a handful of cities, including Jerusalem and Nicosia divided between different nations or territories. 

Why does the Rafah crossing matter?

In 1982, the Rafah crossing point was opened as an official entry and exit point between Egypt and Israeli-controlled Gaza.

In 1994, under the Gaza-Jericho agreement, it came under a form of joint control between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), although Israeli authorities could deny access to any individual. 

But in January 2001, during the Second Intifada, Israel seized full control of the crossing. Later that year, Israeli forces destroyed nearby Yasser Arafat International Airport in Gaza, the only airport serving Palestinians.

yasser arafat rafah
The then Palestinian president Yasser Arafat waves to a cheering crowd who gathered to welcome him in Rafah, Gaza, on 27 February 1998 (AFP/Fayez Nureldine)

In September 2005, Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza as part of a "disengagement plan". Amid the upheaval, gaps emerged in the border for seven days that allowed thousands of people on the Palestinian and Egyptian sides of the Rafah border to briefly meet.

One elderly man crawled through a crack in the wall, fell to his knees, and kissed the earth after touching Palestinian soil for the first time in more than three decades, according to a report from Al-Ahram. Scores of Palestinians also left Gaza for the first time, going on day trips around Sinai. 

Two months later, the crossing returned to joint jurisdiction, until June 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. Since then, the crossing has been controlled by Egypt and Hamas, is opened only intermittently. It is the only gateaway not directly controlled by Israel in and out of Gaza.

Why does Egypt see Rafah as a security risk?

There is a long history of tunnels being used by smugglers to travel between Rafah in Egypt and Rafah in Palestine.

On multiple occasions, Egypt has flooded the tunnels with both seawater and sewage, and constructed an underground barrier to stop the alleged flow of weapons, fighters, and resources between Sinai and southern Gaza. 

In October 2014, high-profile attacks by Sinai-based Islamist militants in the peninsula killed 33 Egyptian security personnel. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered the effective demolition of the city for security reasons, effectively razing much of it to the ground, despite international protests.

The Egyptian authorities have demolished 685 hectares of cultivated farmland and destroyed 800 homes to create a buffer zone between Sinai and Gaza, encompassing what was home to 78,000 people.  Only one village, el-Barth, whose residents are allies of the Egyptian army, remains.

Egypt is close to completing a new Rafah, which has cost an estimated $1.1B and will include 10,000 apartments and an industrial zone.

When else has Rafah been attacked by Israel?

Rafah has also come under Israeli bombardment during multiple wars on Gaza, including in 2009, 2012, 2014, and the present conflict.

During the 2014 war, which marked the most recent ground invasion of Gaza before the present conflict, Israel launched a huge attack called "Operation Protective Edge" on Rafah. 

On 1 August 2014, after Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin went missing, Israel launched air strikes and 1,000 artillery rounds on the city. Tanks and bulldozers also razed scores of homes. At least 75 civilians, including 24 children, were killed in one day. 

The offensive was reportedly an example of the use of the Hannibal Directive, an Israeli domestic rule of engagement that stipulates that if a soldier is kidnapped, then it can loosen precautions and act more aggressively. 

In August 2009, in what was called the Battle of Rafah, fighting between Hamas and a short-lived armed militant group known as Jund Ansar Allah resulted in 22 Palestinian deaths. Before it was destroyed by Hamas, the group established the Islamic Emirate of Rafah, which lasted one day - 14 August 2009. 

Where is Rafah - and why does it matter?

War on Gaza: Israel kills hundreds of imams offering message of hope and patience

Wed, 05/08/2024 - 12:41
War on Gaza: Israel kills hundreds of imams offering message of hope and patience
Muslim preachers have been targeted in the devastating bombing that also destroyed over 500 mosques
Abubaker Abed Wed, 05/08/2024 - 13:41
Palestinians attend the Friday noon prayers in front of the ruins of the al-Faruq mosque, destroyed in Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 1 March 2024 (AFP)
Palestinians attend the Friday noon prayers in front of the ruins of the al-Faruq mosque, destroyed in Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 1 March 2024 (AFP)

Israel's onslaught on Gaza since October has taken a heavy toll on faith leaders from the majority Muslim population, but officials say they are undeterred.

Around 300 Islamic scholars and sheiks, including Quran instructors, Islamic preachers, and imams, have been killed so far in the military assaults, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Religious Affairs. 

Meanwhile, more than 500 mosques have been completely flattened, and dozens of mosques have been partially destroyed, including the historic Al-Omari Mosque.

Three churches have also been reduced to rubble, including the historic Church of Saint Porphyrius. The ministry’s main building and the Quran Podcast Institute were also struck and damaged by Israeli raids. 

Despite the massive losses, the ministry continues its work by delivering sermons and messages of hope and patience in displacement camps and hospitals, reopening damaged mosques for prayers, and holding Quran teaching and memorisation sessions.  

//

A ministry spokesperson said that Israel's targeting of mosques and Muslim scholars is "a deliberate act aimed at breaking the faith of Palestinians".

'We call on especially the Islamic scholars and ministries in the Arab world to seriously act and stop the ongoing atrocities against our people'

- ministry spokesperson

"Religious scholars and facilities are protected by all international laws and traditions, so targeting them is a war crime,” the spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

“Our message to the world is that we want you to stand with us, protest to provide protection for innocent civilians, and stop the genocide in Gaza,” they added.

"We call on especially the Islamic scholars and ministries in the Arab world to seriously act and stop the ongoing atrocities against our people, particularly against our sheikhs and scholars," they said.

“We are leaving this responsibility to them, and tomorrow in the hereafter, we will question them before God about what they have done for their Muslim brothers and sisters in Gaza.”

Prominent scholars and sheikhs in Gaza, such as Taiseer Ibrahim, Najeeba Al-Da'alees, Awni Own, Wael Al-Zird, Basem Al-Safadi, and many others, have been among those targeted during the ferocious military campaign. 

'We need to stop this horror'

Professor Taiseer Ibrahim, the dean of sharia and the Law Faculty at the Islamic University of Gaza and a member of Palestine's Scholars’ Community, spent his entire life learning about Islam. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in Islamic doctrine and fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) from the Islamic University of Gaza and then travelled to the Islamic University in Malaysia to pursue his PhD in Islamic fiqh.

In addition to his sermons, he used his knowledge to advise his community on matters of divorce, disputes, and inheritance. 

Ibrahim was killed in the first days of the war after an Israeli air strike bombed his home in Al-Nusairat Refugee Camp. 

taiseer ibrahim gaza supplied
Taiseer Ibrahim, who was killed in the first days of the war, giving a mosque lecture (courtesy of his family) 

His son Mohammed, a fifth-year medical student, talked about his loss to MEE.

“He wasn’t just my father but my brother, friend, and companion,” he said.

Mohammed described his late father as “a symbol of love, forgiveness, and generosity".

//

“We need to stop this horror,” he added.

An Israeli attack also killed a woman imam, Najeeba al-Da’alees, in the first week of the brutal assault on Gaza. She was a long-serving Quran teacher for girls and women for more than 20 years.  

“She was a mother to her students, a leader of the women’s community in Gaza, and a truly kind person,” Quran teacher Om-Bilal Toman told MEE.

“She had a talent for reading the Quran in different tones and achieved the highest recitation courses, which she was very keen on passing on to her students during her life.

“I was both her student and colleague. She was an inspiration to me.

“She taught us that Islam is a peaceful religion and supports development, open-mindedness, and love of life,” she said.

'Where is the Muslim world?'

Owni Own, a famed Quran teacher, a public orator, and an imam, was killed alongside members of his family in an Israeli air strike on his house in Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in March on the 21st day of the holy month of Ramadan. 

//

The 65-year-old was also an English teacher at the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for the Palestinians (Unrwa). 

He served as a Quran teacher at Al-Zaytoona College in Gaza. In addition, he had a currency exchange office in Al-Nusairat Refugee Camp.

Awni Own Palestinian Quran teacher killed by Israel
Awni Own, a Palestinian Quran teacher killed by the Israeli military (supplied)

“His smile never left his face. He always showed people love and kindness and loved making jokes with them. He used to teach his students the Quran with an unmatched, sheer passion,” said Abu-Abid al-Bayoomi, a former colleague of Own.

“Until when the world will stay silent? Where is the Arab and so-called Muslim world?” Abu-Abid al-Bayoomi questioned.

Gaza, occupied Palestine
Israel kills scores of imams offering message of hope and patience in Gaza

'I want to go back': A New York nurse's journey to Gaza and back

Mon, 04/29/2024 - 19:15
'I want to go back': A New York nurse's journey to Gaza and back
Rohaan Gill knew he could get killed while volunteering in Gaza, but he wants nothing more than to return
Zainab Iqbal Mon, 04/29/2024 - 20:15
Rohaan Gill smiles with children in Gaza during his medical mission there (Supplied by Rohaan Gill)

Since the start of the Israeli war in Gaza on 7 October, Rohaan Gill has been part of several WhatsApp groups trying to find a way into the war zone, but it seemed impossible. 

The 28-year-old registered nurse based in Brooklyn, New York, could not sit still while seeing the atrocities happening thousands of kilometres away. He said he felt ashamed, frustrated and guilty.

"The whole point of me pursuing a career is to use my skills to help our people," Gill, a Brooklyn native of Pakistani-origin told Middle East Eye. "If I can't even do that, then what is the point?"

Israeli forces have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians since 7 October, according to Gaza's health ministry. Over 80,000 have been wounded since the start of the war, and they are mostly women and children.

Gaza is rife with combat-related deaths, but malnutrition, a "looming famine" and other complications from the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people compound the misery.

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"We received reports that at least two children died due to the heat," said Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general for Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. "What more to endure: death, hunger, disease, displacement, now living in greenhouse-like structures under scorching heat." 

Unrwa said that Palestinians had less than one litre per person per day of water for drinking, washing and bathing, well under the international minimum standard of 15 litres. 

'You don't go into Gaza without accepting that you could die'

- Rohaan Gill, registered nurse

One day in April, a group chat Gill was a part of, Doctors Against Genocide, put out a call for medical volunteers. Gill didn't hesitate and immediately signed up.

"I went to my mom after I signed up. I asked her if she'd be ok if they called me to Gaza," Gill said. "She told me 'It's your duty. You'd have to go and I would never be able to stop you.'"

So on 29 April, Gill left for the journey of a lifetime after getting the go-ahead. For a trip that was only meant to last a week, Gill ended up staying in Palestine for nearly a month.

Al-Aqsa hospital and the sound of bombs

Gill undertook the medical mission with an organisation called Glia. With him were about seven other volunteers who were part of a larger convoy of around 40 medical workers.

Gill spent most of his time in Rafah volunteering in a primary care clinic. More specifically, he would help treat victims with wounds: dressing changes, suturing and cleaning infections. 

He also visited al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, the same hospital that was hit by a strike on 31 March, which many blame on Israel.

Palestinian health officials said the strike hit several tents used by journalists and displaced Palestinians in the vicinity of the hospital, killing four people and wounding several, including five journalists.

"That's the hospital that you see on the news of people holding their bleeding children. We went there to see for ourselves what was going on. And we just ended up working there because that's how much help was needed," Gill said.

He said he witnessed countless people come in with injuries from explosives. He'd hear a bomb and then a whole bunch of people would rush into the hospital. There weren't any rooms available, so doctors and nurses would treat patients out on the main floors. 

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"There's just no space. There are people all over the hospital just lying down everywhere. Every inch of the hospital is taken. I think the capacity of the hospital is around 175. And there are maybe 1,200 people there. It was insane."

If there's an image that Gill, who used to work as a director of a youth centre in Brooklyn, cannot forget, it is the image of children in the hospital. Kids who had made it out of the rubble, but their entire families were gone. Kids with burns upon burns on their tiny lifeless bodies. Parents screaming for their children. "It all doesn't just go away," Gill said.

Gill went to Palestine expecting everything. But once he was there, experiencing it all first-hand was something he'd never forget. The sound of bombs, the sound of gunshots, the constant sound of drones. The first time he heard it, he asked: "What is that?" But to the doctors there, that sound was normal. 

"When bombs get closer and closer, they sound different. And when they explode nearby, the entire building shakes. And I found it hard to refocus when that happened. But to the people who live here, they were able to refocus incredibly fast," Gill said.

Gill described one time when he was at the clinic in Rafah and heard the loudest sound he had ever heard. It was a roaring boom that lasted about 20 seconds. The building began to shake. After the boom, it got very quiet for a bit. And then he heard sounds like missiles coming toward the building. 

"Of course, I am calm in my face, but my heart is pumping and my mind is racing," Gill said. After a while, Gill and the others went outside, and it turned out it wasn't a bomb or an air strike. It was a warplane that the Israeli military allegedly flew really low to break the sound barrier to scare everyone. 

"It was the worst sound ever. This is what they do to torture people," Gill said. After the commotion was over, people came up to him and cracked jokes. Because to them this was all normal. But to Gill, this was the scariest thing he had ever experienced. 

Israeli forces have been accused of employing psychological warfare on the 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip, to undermine their morale. This also includes methods such as dropping leaflets from planes and balloons, reminiscent of propaganda tactics utilised in past conflicts like the world wars and American campaigns in Vietnam and Iraq.

'Our tax dollars are funding this genocide. It's not okay to be neutral'

- Rohaan Gill, registered nurse

"You don't go into Gaza without accepting that you could die. Even if you do everything you are supposed to, like the World Central Kitchen staff, you could still be killed," Gill said.

"We drove through the same route they did. We were in the same area. It's completely dangerous. But you have to ignore the fact that you could die and just do your thing."

On 1 April, a World Central Kitchen convoy was attacked while travelling in a deconflicted zone after the team had unloaded over 100 tons of food aid at the Deir al Balah warehouse. 

Seven members of its team were killed. The Israeli military later said the attack stemmed from "a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures". The attack was globally condemned and is widely viewed as a violation of international law.

Having faith in God

But no matter how afraid he and others were, Gill found that the people of Palestine were the most resilient he had ever met. He believes it stems from their intense faith in God.

gaza medical mission
Rohaan Gill works on a patient in Gaza (Supplied by Rohaan Gill)

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"Despite it all, they are still living life. They have so much hope and love. They would invite me into their homes and honour their guests. They still have nice haircuts and care about how they look. They are just human."

Gill said it is no longer okay to be neutral.

"Our tax dollars are funding this genocide. It's not okay to be neutral. We have to stand up against this. We have to humanise these people. They are just like us. They laugh like us. They eat like us. They breathe like us. They joke like us. We have to help them," Gill said.

Gill said he will never forget the people he met and the friends he made along the way. The nurses in Gaza taught him how to suture. They all got him gifts before he left. They taught him so much about hope and resilience - something he could never pay them back for.

"They've lost everything. And these people are suffering. But they're not depressed. They're not miserable. They are away from their homes but they are filled with so much hope," Gill said.

Ever since Gill has been back home in Brooklyn, his heart has been yearning to go back. He said he was a lazy nurse before. He still goes to protests. But on this trip, he found his purpose. He said he wants to gain more skills to help "my people".

"Once you're there, you don't want to leave. You want to stay and help in any way that you can. Leaving was hard. And it's harder here, too. In Palestine, even though I was surrounded by bombs and drones, at least I was there. Over here, all I feel is shame and guilt. I don't want to be here. I want to go back."

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