THE Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, threatened to initiate a ‘wide-scale and painful military operation’ against the besieged Gaza Strip due to the continued launch of incendiary kites and explosive balloons from Gaza into Israel, on Friday.
Lieberman visited Gaza border residents, in the vicinity of the Israeli border town of Kfar Azza, and acknowledged that the situation on the Gaza borders is ‘intolerable’ due to the incendiary kites and explosive balloons setting ablaze several fields and natural forests, and the ashes affecting the quality of the air. Lieberman blamed the Hamas movement for the current situation and accused Hamas of forcefully pushing its army into a ‘no choice’ situation that requires a wide-scale and painful military operation to intervene.
Lieberman called upon the residents of Gaza to pressure Hamas to change direction, in order ‘to return to a civil and reasonable reality, and for easing ‘‘economic hardships”.’
Lieberman also denied that any talks were currently taking place between Israel and the Hamas movement, insisting that Jerusalem is ‘in close contact’ with relevant people, whether that is the Egyptians or UN representatives.
The most recent exchange of missiles and mortar shells Israel and Hamas was when Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting southern Gaza and killing one Palestinian youth, while injuring three others, one of whom is in critical condition.
• Israeli settlers of the illegal Israeli settlement of Hallamish, in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, attacked participants of ‘Hike and Explore Your Homeland’ group under armed security by Israeli soldiers, on Friday. The Hallamish illegal Israeli settlement is built over confiscated lands of Palestinian villages of Nabi Salih and Deir Nidham, in the central district of Ramallah.
The Israeli settlers of Hallamish attacked a peaceful group of known as ‘Hike and Explore Your Homeland,’ who were trying to reach the Ein al-Zarqa natural spring in the Palestinian town of Beitello in the Ramallah district.
The group regularly hikes around various sites to give young Palestinians a chance to get more informed about Palestine and its landscape. Armed Israeli settlers along with Israeli forces attacked the group while on their weekly tour of Palestinian areas; they forcefully attempted to prevent the group from advancing in the tour and physically assaulted some of the participants, while shouting racist expressions and insults at the group.
The attack comes as an attempt by Israeli settlers to prevent people, Palestinian landowners, and tourists from reaching the area near the settlement, which they have been planning to confiscate for further expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement. This is not the first time Israeli settlers have attempted to prevent Palestinian groups from moving freely; tour groups are often attacked in the area and landowners are prevented from reaching their lands in preparation for confiscation.
Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with recent announcements of settlement expansion provoking condemnation from the international community.
The Palestinian government has no jurisdiction over Israelis in the West Bank, and acts carried out by Israeli settlers often occur in the presence of Israeli military forces who rarely act to protect Palestinian residents. Palestinian activists and rights groups have long accused Israel of fostering a ‘culture of impunity’ for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians.
• Raed Jadallah was regarded as one of Palestine’s best surfers. From his home in the Beach refugee camp of Gaza City, he dreamed of travelling abroad to hone the skills he had developed through constant practice. Israel prevented him from realising his ambitions.
In 2017, Raed was invited to a training course for surfers in Italy. He was unable to go. The Israeli authorities refused to allow him to leave Gaza. Much worse was to come. On 6th April this year, Raed was badly injured as he participated in the Great March of Return in an area to the east of Gaza City.
Raed stood about 100 metres from the boundary between Gaza and Israel, waving a Palestinian flag. He was demonstrating in support of the right to return for refugees expelled from their homes by Zionist forces during the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. As he demanded that basic right, he was attacked by an Israeli sniper.
‘I was shot with an explosive bullet in my left leg,’ the 26-year-old said. ‘Doctors have told me that I will not be able to go back to surfing because my muscles will not be as strong as they were. Surfing requires strong muscles and being able to balance on the surfboard. At the moment, I cannot move my leg.’ The injury has multiple consequences. Because of it, Raed has lost his job as a construction worker.
The job had provided an important source of income for his family, some of whom have disabilities. They include his brother Rafiq, who was injured during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in 2006. Another brother, Medhat, who was 17, was killed by Israeli forces in 2000. He was taking part in a protest east of Gaza City at the time.
Raed was passionate about the sea. He had worked as a fisherman but gave that up because it was too dangerous. Israel frequently attacks fishermen, sometimes fatally. Surfing provided him with opportunities to escape – if temporarily – from the hardships of everyday life. Now his opportunities to savour a little freedom have been shattered.
Israel killed more than 150 Palestinians in Gaza between 30th March – the date of the first protest in the Great March of Return – and 12th July. Approximately 8,000 people have been taken to hospital with injuries in that period. Nearly half of them were wounded with live ammunition.
The wounded have included more than 50 athletes. Abd al-Hameed Fayad is among them.
A 26-year-old volleyball player, Fayad was injured on 14th May, the day Israel committed its worst massacre of 2018 so far. He was shot with three explosive bullets – two in his left leg, the other in his right.
The medical team treating him at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City initially thought that his left leg would have to be amputated. Fortunately, they determined that the leg could be saved. He has subsequently undergone a number of operations.
‘I have platinum in my legs now,’ he said. ‘I hate how they look because they restrict my movement. The doctors have told me that I will have difficulty walking for the time being because my foot was damaged and I lost 15 centimetres of bone.’ The young man with a metal brace on his leg smiled as he threw a volleyball in the air while sitting on a small bed.
‘My story is the same as that of many athletes in Gaza,’ says Abd al-Hameed Fayad.
Fayad also lives in Beach refugee camp and played volleyball for a local club. His injuries mean that he has to give up his beloved sport. ‘I used to run on the beach every day,’ he said. ‘Volleyball made life beautiful. Through it, I could forget my worries. My story is the same as that of many athletes in Gaza.’
He has performed a number of jobs over recent years – working in construction, in a barbershop and, just before he was wounded, in a shoe shop. His earnings were vital for his family, helping to sustain his six brothers. As he cannot work at the moment, the family has to try and survive on less money.
Muhammad Abu Ghaza from Rafah, a city near Gaza’s border with Egypt, had been the breadwinner for his family since his father, a blacksmith, became unemployed two years ago. Abu Ghaza worked as an accountant in a household appliance store. Each evening, he practised playing handball with a club from his area.
The young man wearing a long tunic lifted fabric to reveal a leg with a metal brace on it.
Israel has not allowed Muhammad Abu Ghaza to travel to Jordan for specialised medical treatment. On 6th April, joined the Great March of Return. He was more than 300 metres from the boundary separating Gaza and Israel, when he was shot in his right knee. An Israeli sniper had struck him with an exploding bullet. His nerves have been damaged as a result and the surgery he requires is not available inside Gaza. An application was submitted in order for him to receive treatment in Jordan. Israel, however, has refused to allow him to travel.
The thought that he can no longer play sport distresses Abu Ghaza. Each night, he visits the seaside, trying as hard as he can not to think about his pain. ‘Israel destroyed my dream to be a professional handball player,’ he said. ‘It is normal for the Israeli occupation to hold back a young man with a dream. It is not strange at all. The occupation and the siege kill us every day.’