Cautious Calm Over Gaza as Israel Zeroes in on West Bank
The Egyptian mediated agreement between Israel and Palestinian armed forces reached on March 13 is holding precariously in the Gaza Strip despite minor breaches from both sides. By the time the ceasefire went into effect, 25 Palestinians had been killed and approximately 200 rockets had been fired into Israel. A day later, on March 14, seven-year old Baraka Mughrabi died of his wounds sustained during the Israeli raids. Another child, 13-year old Ayyoub Asseili died when he was hit in an Israeli airstrike on his way to school on March 11. On March 12, seven people were killed in Gaza including a father and his daughter while they were planting mulokhiya, a green leafy vegetable near Jabalyia. After the ceasefire was in place, two rockets were fired into Israel, causing “panic” among eight Israelis in Ashdod; Israel responded by launching two air attacks on Gaza. Still, the Islamic Jihad said on March 15 that it remained committed to the truce all while retaining the right to retaliate should Israel attack again. Jihad leader Ahmad Mudallal said his movement, which suffered the lion’s share of casualties in the attacks, agreed to the ceasefire after assurances by Egyptian mediators that Israel would stop assassinating its members. "We don’t trust the occupation but we trust our steadfastness and resistance. We cannot be quiet during any aggression on the Palestinian people," Mudallal said. The Israeli government, which also said it would commit to calm denied however that it had promised to halt assassinations of so-called “terrorists” in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on March 13. Hamas, which is the de facto authority in Gaza, remained outside the circle of rocket fire throughout the Israeli raids, saying it was looking to restore ‘calm’, according to Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar on March 12. But now that Gaza has quieted, it is the West Bank that made the most noise this week. For one, a report issued by the International Monetary Fund on March 17 has pointed to a bleak future if the cash-strapped PA doesn’t get some funding soon. The report urged donors to meet their aid pledges to the PA, warning that unless it got funding soon it would be forced “to cut public wages and social benefits to address a deepening fiscal crisis.”The IMF described the economic situation as a "difficult phase". This follows another report issued on March 15. A World Bank report warned that the financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority “severely undermines the state-building progress.” The report entitled "Stagnation or Revival?" found that a decline in donor assistance and Israeli restrictions are "jeopardizing gains" made in building state institutions. On March 16, Israeli occupation forces violently cracked down on demonstrators during Palestinians’ weekly demonstrations against the separation wall and land confiscation. In Nabi Saleh at least eight Palestinians and an Israeli activist were injured. Israeli peace activist Naomi Laet, 22, suffered head injuries after being hit by a rubber bullet according to a statement from the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. Three people were also injured in a demonstration in the Nablus-area village of Kufr Qaddum in a demonstration dedicated to the memory of American protester Rachel Corrie, killed in Gaza nine years ago by an Israeli bulldozer. In the Kufr Qaddum demonstration, activists caught Israeli border police on tape setting a dog on protesters, which caught Ahmad Shtawi by the arm. The tape shows Shtawi’s clothes being ripped by the dog as it bites down on his lower arm. He was later arrested. On March 15, Israeli forces uprooted olive trees in Beit Dajan near Nablus. Village council head Naser Abu Jesh said Israeli military jeeps accompanied by bulldozers razed 12 dunums of land in the eastern part of the village, saying it was a closed military zone. The land, which belongs to Jamal Abu Kanan is located near the illegal Israeli settlement of Hamra. Then on the evening of March 16, dozens of settlers from Yish Kudish broke into the village of Douma, also near Nablus, and destroyed 220 olive trees. Meanwhile, on March 14, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Israel has designated some 900,000 dunams of the West Bank as Israeli “state land”, thus violating Israeli and international laws. "Large swaths of land have been classified state land and designated for use by settlements, despite the fact that they belong to Palestinian individuals or communities," said the new report. The study says Palestinian land "was taken from their lawful owners by legal manipulation and in breach of local law and international law alike." In other news, prisoner Hana’ Shalabi is continuing her hunger strike for the 32nd day in spite of her deteriorating health. A March 12 visit by a doctor from the Israeli-based Physicians without Borders confirmed that Shalabi’s condition was worsening in spite of prison authorities’ claims that she was still stable. The doctor said Shalabi was suffering from a loss of weight, diminishing muscle function, severe pains in her stomach and chest and a dangerous drop in her blood sugar levels. Shalabi is protesting her violent arrest at the hands of Israeli occupation forces from her home in Bourin and the administrative detention sentence she was handed down, saying she would not stop her strike until she is released. Jafar Abu Salah, 45, another administrative detainee entered his sixth day of hunger strike in solidarity with Shalabi on March 15. Salah was taken by Israeli forces from his home in Arraba in the northern West Bank. Israeli courts have postponed his hearing 11 times. Prisoners are waging another battle as well. According to Prisoner Affairs minister Issa Qaraqe on March 15, Israeli prison authorities have begun to collect DNA samples from Palestinian prisoners against their will, saying this was against international law. “We petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court yesterday against the humiliating treatment of our prisoners," Qaraqe’ said. Israel says it is a policy it will implement on all prisoners in Israel committed of ‘crimes’ even though the majority of Palestinians in Israeli jails are there as political prisoners. Finally, reconciliation efforts continue to falter even though officials say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal will most likely meet next week in Cairo. Still, on March 15, PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said the national unity agreement would "fade away" without public pressure on the parties to put it into action. Abed Rabbo told the Voice of Palestine, that Hamas was to blame for the failure to implement a reconciliation agreement signed last May. His statements came a day after Hamas sources were quoted as saying that the movement was not yet ready for reconciliation and that the unity agreement may be pushed back until next year.