Saturday, 31 July 2010

Austrian Armed Forces Advance Training - Day Two

Modular Period Three - Native Challenge

Austrian Armed Forces Advance Training - Day Two

Students in self-defense training

Just imagine for a moment, you are on a peacekeeping operation and you are confronted with one of these scenarios or situations: a planned or spontaneous negotiation with armed forces or militant groups, positioned in a dangerous mine location, entering into a building with explosive booby traps or stopped at a checkpoint. After that, you are held at gunpoint by a child soldier or member from a dangerous group and then kidnapped. What would you do? In reality, depending on the situation, one wrong decision may cause you to lose your life or a bodily limb; one wrong choice may put your life in jeopardy.

Students of this semester embarked on a journey, which went beyond creating these mental images. Rather, they were introduced to relevant theoretical knowledge by the military force on how to approach such situations. Simulations were also staged by the facilitators to allow students to use the knowledge gained in these and other situations.

Topics covered included: basic introduction to negotiations, mine awareness, self defense and security awareness. The aim of the presentation on negotiation was to familiarize students with the principles and aspects relating to preparation and conduct of negotiations in a typical peace keeping operation. A situational plot was carried out which involved negotiations with the different teams and a representative from an armed force in a staged conflict setting. Students acquired firsthand experience on the do’s and don’ts of negotiations and learned both from their successful attempts as well as their mistakes.

Students also viewed a film on mine awareness. It provided basic information on the general threat of mines and more importantly, what should be done if you are in a location which is suspected to have mines or other explosive traps. The facilitators even went a step further and created a situation of an empty house with staged booby traps and explosives. This demonstrated to students how simple it is to design and detonate such life threatening devices.

On a more physical note, through self-defense training, students became more aware of their strength and how it could be used when attacked under different circumstances and from different positions. It was emphasized by the facilitator that the purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how to defend yourself and not to attack the perpetrator.

Day two of the training ended with a theoretical session on security awareness. The idea was that students would become more exposed to the importance of being cognizant of their environment and the security risk surrounding them. They were introduced to contingency planning, emergency procedures relating to passing check points, hostage taking or detention, armed robbery, shelling and communication with the radio.

While the four teams concluded an interesting day of training, the headquarters spent the day and most of the night planning the mission for the simulations which would commence on day three. Lights went out and they rested in preparation for the toughest days of the training; limits would be tested and memories of challenges created.[tt_news]=12&cHash=97326868d65d3d0214ee05b7bb61e3f1

Austrian Armed Forces Advance Training - Day One

Peace Students 2010 Modular Period Three - Native Challenge

Austrian Armed Forces Advance Training - Day One

Is this the toughest peace program in the world? Some individuals may answer yes to this question while others may disagree; nevertheless, the program definitely offers a unique learning approach encompassing new challenges and unforgettable experiences for peace students.

36 summer term students, coming from approximately 22 different countries, completed the first day of a five-day military training program. The training was facilitated by the Austrian Armed Forces at a military secured location in Tirol over 2000 meters high in the Austrian Alps.

As peace students, we often need the extra guidance and insight in choosing our main career focus as future peace workers. In this regard, students were given the opportunity to be exposed to situations through practical simulations and role-plays to help them make the decision or reflect on whether fieldwork in conflict and post conflict zones is an appropriate choice for their future.

Lessons were conducted by military personnel with an extensive accumulation of experience and expertise from missions abroad in locations such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, Chad etc. The Major in command noted to the students in the introduction session that the aim of this intense training is not only to provide them with basic deployment knowledge on peacekeeping operations abroad, but also to create an environment for developing the relevant practical skills and abilities which may save a person´s life on a field mission.

As the schedule of the day unfolded, students became familiar with the main objectives governing the activities for the training period. The facilitator in the introduction re-emphasized that a key feature of the training is learning by doing. As such, theoretical lessons are accompanied by practical training. It was further explained that there would be the planning of tasks by students to connect imparted fields of knowledge and situational training. Two days were designed mainly for theoretical and practical training and the remaining three days allowed for practical and suituational exercises.

“How can these objectives be achieved or realized?” To start with, the students were divided into five groups; a team which played the role of a headquarters in a typical peace keeping operation abroad (3rd term students) and four other teams or squads, which focused more on the implementation of plans designed by the headquarters (1st and 2nd term students).

The platform for the development of leadership skills, team building and interpersonal communication approaches was intricately presented to students since each group was assigned with a leader and second-in-command and working team members. This also applied for the headquarters team who had the responsibility for planning and assessing all the details regarding the logistical, financial and communication aspects of the simulation as well as adapting to the events and changes which unfolded from the student’s perspective.

With the teams divided and the main designated roles established, the headquarters was given the task to commence planning the simulated mission, while the other students continued with the theoretical and practical training. A basic overview of the United Nations in peacekeeping operations was presented; this included its role, functions, scope of operation under different UN articles and challenges encountered. The second presentation focused on the basics of peace support operation and the different staff structures.

On a more practical note, the final lecture of the day concluded with training on radio communication. Since the radio is considered one of the main mediums to communicate necessary updates on the location of team members and the status of assignments in the field, students became familiar with the guidelines and procedures and codes for sending and receiving messages.

Essentially, the first day of training served as a critical introduction for the days to follow and more over for students who decide to follow the path of working for peacekeeping operations in the field.[tt_news]=11&cHash=fb374467c847fa5f52f2a01761e3b60b

Friday, 30 July 2010

What You Don’t Know About Gaza

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.

The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe.

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gaza: The Enduring Siege

Gaza: The Enduring Siege

What lessons can be drawn from the anti-apartheid struggle to overcome the siege on Gaza?


Much attention has been paid to Israel’s “easing” of its siege of Gaza in early July 2010. Palestinians in Gaza now have access to previously banned items like pasta and chocolate. However, there is no freedom of movement for people and goods. In other words, Gaza remains under siege as it has since 2006, almost completely isolated from the rest of the world. Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Haidar Eid reflects on the extent to which the apartheid analogy applies to the situation in Gaza. He draws telling comparisons with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and argues that the Palestinian national movement has ignored those lessons to its own detriment.

Israeli-Apartheid in Gaza?

The Palestinian national movement has overlooked this question: Does the Gaza Strip resemble the racist Bantustans of apartheid South Africa? During the apartheid-era, South Africa’s black population was kept in isolation and without political and civil rights. Is Gaza similar? The answer is yes and no.

What is apartheid? As defined by the 1973 United Nations convention, apartheid is a policy of racial or ethnic segregation founded on a set of discriminatory practices that favor a specific group in order to ensure its racial supremacy over another group.1 In Israel, institutionalized racial discrimination is unequivocally founded on ensuring the primacy of a group of Jewish settlers over the Palestinian Arabs. When comparing the applications of the apartheid policy, it is difficult to identify any differences between white rule in South Africa and its Israeli counterpart in Palestine in terms of the segregation and designation of certain areas to Israeli Jews and others to the Arabs, the delineation of certain laws and privileges for Jews and a discriminatory set of laws that apply only to Palestinians.

Currently, in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) there are two road systems, two housing systems, two educational systems, and different legal and administrative systems for Jews and non-Jews. Every law enacted during the South African apartheid system has a corresponding law in Israel. This includes the Group areas act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Law on Movement and Permits, the Public Safety Act, the Population Registration Act, the Immorality Act, the Land Act and, of course, the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act. The corresponding Israeli laws are the Law of Return, the 2003 “temporary” laws prohibiting mixed marriages, the Population Registry Law, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli Nationality Law, and land and property laws.

Like South Africa. Israel’s brand of apartheid is mixed with settler colonialism. As in the United States and Australia, settler colonialism in Israel and South Africa has also involved the ethnic cleansing or genocide of the indigenous people influenced by a racist and/or religious ideology of supremacy.

When evaluated along these lines, the term apartheid clearly applies to Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are isolated from the rest of the population in historical Palestine, and do not enjoy minimum political rights and basic living conditions available to Jewish residents because they were born to mothers from the “wrong” religion. In this context, it should be recalled that 80% of the population in the Strip were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and are barred from returning to the villages and cities from which they were driven.

The Bantustans were part of the apartheid regime’s racist formula to separate the black population and preserve “white supremacy.” Although the Bantustans were called “independent homelands,” their inhabitants were not granted equal rights or even independent political decision-making power -- a harbinger of what is planned for the so-called independent Palestinian state within the June 1967 borders. In South Africa, the debate was about 11 states that could live side by side in peace. In spite of Pretoria’s best efforts, the Bantustans gained no international recognition save from Israel.

Gaza is deprived of even this racist formula. Israel appears to have learned a lesson from South Africa. It did not appoint local leaders to provide "limited self-government" over the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, in coordination with the United States and shielded by the international community, Israel allowed "free" elections to take place so that the Bantustanization process could gain "legitimacy” and international approval with the consent of the indigenous people. Although hailed internationally, the elections which took place under occupation were a Palestinian tragedy. Israel succeeded in enticing the indigenous people in Palestine to promote the illusion of potential "independence" for segments of 22% of historical Palestine. These parcels of land without sovereignty would be sold to the world as an independent Palestinian state.

Gaza Under Siege

At the same time, the answer to the question of whether “apartheid” applies to Gaza is also no. The Gaza Strip has devolved from being a Bantustan between the Oslo accord years (1993-2002) into a large concentration camp. Several South African anti-apartheid activists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said during their visits to the OPT that what they saw was far worse than what South Africans witnessed during apartheid. The difference between the two kindred regimes – Israel and apartheid South Africa – is the difference between inferiority and dehumanization. As Saree Makdisi has explained it is a difference between exploitation and genocide.2

Never, throughout the history of apartheid in South Africa, did racist forces use the full force of their military against the civilian population in townships. In contrast, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000 and culminating in the 2008-2009 winter invasion, Gaza has been attacked by F-16s, Apache helicopter gunships, warships, Merkava Tanks and internationally prohibited phosphorus bombs.

Israel’s siege on Gaza was imposed after Palestinians elected Hamas in internationally sanctioned and observed elections in 2006. It was tightened after Hamas defeated forces loyal to the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. Since then, the list of items banned from entering Gaza covered more than 200 articles including cement, paper, cancer medications and even pasta and chocolate! According to the Israeli organization Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Israel granted access to only 97 articles, compared to 4,000 before the blockade. About 80% of the Gaza Strip’s population survive on humanitarian aid. More than 90% of Gaza's factories have been shut down.

When the 18-month old siege was unable to break the will of Palestinians in Gaza, Israel launched its deadly invasion at the end of 2008. According to the human rights organizations and the UN sanctioned Goldstone Report, over 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children, were killed and thousands wounded. Israel destroyed at least 11,000 homes, 105 factories, 20 hospitals and clinics as well as 159 schools, universities and technical institutes. Furthermore, it resulted in the displacement of 51,800 persons of whom 20,000 remain homeless.

Commenting on this situation, Karen Abu Zayd, former Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) said: “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution with the knowledge, acquiescence and — some would say — encouragement of the international community."

Learning from South Africa

There is an urgent need, at this historic moment after Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, to reshape international public opinion that is supportive of the Palestinian cause with emphasis on the multiple similarities between Zionism and the apartheid regime in South Africa. This can be accomplished by focusing on the common suffering of the indigenous black population and the Palestinians today, not only in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also in the Palestinian Diaspora and inside Israel.

It is unfortunate that the “official” Palestinian leadership has not studied and learned lessons from the South African experience. On the contrary, they almost unanimously accepted the creation of a type of bantustan-based system that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa rejected. One wonders about the real reason behind this deliberate disregard of a very rich experience. Does it derive from the same misguided notion as that of the Bantustan leaders who claimed African racial nationalism? Does it involve chauvinism and lack of openness to other people's experiences? Is our cause really so exceptional from a historical point of view that we must exceptionally accept racist solutions promoted as an “autonomous" solution?

Unfortunately, the struggle for liberation has been reduced to one for Bantustans. In other words, the consciousness of the Palestinian struggle has split as a result of fetishizing the concept of state at the expense of liberation, nullifying the right of return without saying so, and the tiresome reiteration of the “Palestinian national project.” This stands in conflict with the aspirations of the vast majority of the Palestinian people who are refugees guaranteed the right of return under international law.

The option of an independent Palestinian state has become impossible for several reasons, including Israel’s endeavors to transform settlements into cities, increase the number of settlers to more than half a million, build the apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, expand Greater Jerusalem and cleanse it of its Palestinian inhabitants, and systematically turn Gaza into the largest detention center on the face of the earth. It is obvious that the Palestinian national movement as a whole has been infected with the virus of Oslo. The Oslo virus creates false consciousness that transforms the struggle for liberation, the return of refugees, human rights, and full equality, into a struggle for “independence" with limited sovereignty: a flag, a national anthem, and a small piece of land on which to exercise municipal sovereignty and establish ministries, all with the permission of the occupier. 3 It is not very surprising, then, that first former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman no longer oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The other side of the Palestinian leadership frequently proposes 10-year and 20-year truces, arguing that the truce is an "alternative" to the demise of the two-state solution. Although there are no significant differences in terms of the principle of accepting a pure nationalist solution to the Palestinian cause between these two sides, this minor disagreement has gained greater prominence and has been employed to serve the racist solution. The so-called "alternative” of a 20-year truce bets that the pragmatic nature of this call will "persuade" the international community. In fact, it lacks a clear strategic vision to resolve the conflict in a way that ensures the return of refugees. What does a 20-year truce mean? Isn’t this a message to the refugees to endure another 20 years until the balance of power shifts? What happens if it does not shift?

The two-state solution has unfortunately become the prevailing political discourse over the past two decades. Some traditionally leftist intellectuals, having been transformed into a socially and politically rightwing or “neo-liberal” left, defend this solution as the only one available given the prevailing balance of power. They also defended it as a transitional - i.e., an interim - scheme. They occasionally threaten to espouse the one-state settlement, using this as a scarecrow not only to frighten Israel but also against us, the indigenous population. These attempts reveal an ideological decline and a lack of faith in the ability of the Palestinian people and the broader international solidarity movements to make revolutionary changes like those that took place against the apartheid regime.

In a short story entitled “The Music of the Violin,” South African writer Njabulo Ndebele, one of the characters comments on the "concessions" made by the apartheid regime to indigenous people: ""That's how it is planned. That we be given a little of everything, and so prize the little we have that we forget about freedom." In that same story, a black revolutionary intellectual says that ""[he'd] rather be a hungry dog that runs freely in the streets , than a fat, chained dog burdened with itself and the weight of the chain."4 These two examples from South Africa summarize the lessons we should learn from Gaza 2009. There was no potential for coexistence with apartheid in South Africa, and we must accept no less.


  1. 1
  2. 2
    Saree Makdisi, “A racism outside of language: Israel’s Apartheid,” Pambazuka News, March 11, 2010.
  3. 3
    See Camille Mansour's Al-Shabaka policy brief "How Sovereign a State?" and Mouin Rabani's Al-Shabaka's policy brief " Palestine 2010: Time for Plan B"
  4. 4
    Njabulo Ndebele, Fools and Other Stories (1983)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Gaza: Blockade 'Easing' not enough, say leading NGOs, as EU's Baroness Ashton visits

Gaza: Blockade 'Easing' not enough, say leading NGOs, as EU's Baroness Ashton visits

Posted: 18 July 2010

Amnesty International UK, Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Christian Aid Ireland, CCFD, Cordaid, Diakonia, FIDH, Finn Church Aid, Handicap International, ICCO, IKV Pax Christi, Medical Aid to the Palestinians, medico international, Quaker Council for European Affairs, Secours Islamique, War Child UK
The EU must insist on the full lifting of the blockade of Gaza, not just its easing, if it is serious about helping the economy of Gaza recover and allowing its people to rebuild their lives, says a group of 18 international development, human rights and peace-building organisations, as EU High Representative Catherine Ashton visits Gaza today (18 July). A group of European foreign ministers is also expected to visit Gaza soon.

‘While the changes in the blockade policy announced by the Government of Israel on 20 June and 5 July represent steps forward, they fall short of what is needed to rebuild Gaza’s economy and what is required by international law’, the groups say in a letter to EU foreign ministers and its High Representative, who are also set to consider next steps on the blockade at an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 26 July. Read the letter (pdf)

To secure real progress towards the full lifting of the blockade, the NGOs call on the EU to press the parties on the ground to take action on five key areas:
  • Ending the ban on exports from Gaza;
  • Allowing movement of people into and from Gaza;
  • Ensuring sufficient capacity and efficiency of the crossings;
  • Allowing the entry of construction materials for the private sector;
  • Ensuring access to Gaza’s agricultural land and fishing grounds.
We believe that securing clear commitments on these issues - rather than only the implementation of the announced changes - should now be a top priority’, the organisations argue in their appeal. The EU should also work to ensure that they are central to the strategy of the whole Middle East Quartet of which the EU is part and its envoy Tony Blair, they add.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Banning the vast majority of exports and the general movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza and pushed its population into poverty, dependency and despair.

“Instead of collectively punishing the civilian population, Israel must comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade in its entirety so Gazans can rebuild their shattered lives.”

On exports, the groups point out that even under the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, signed by Israel, the target for exports was set at 400 truckloads of exports a day. In contrast, just 259 truckloads in total have left Gaza since the blockade began over three years ago. Recent announcements make no provision at all for opening up exports - and yet ‘there can be no economic recovery in Gaza without exports’, say the groups. Prior to the blockade Gaza’s economy was heavily reliant on exports, especially to Israel and the West Bank, in sectors such as furniture, clothing and textiles, and food and farm products.

The groups also stress that the ban on movement of people to and from Gaza must be lifted to allow people to trade, work, study, receive medical treatment and visit family members. Particularly vital is movement between Gaza and the West Bank, which is essential for the “healthy functioning of Palestinian society and for the development of its economy”, they add.

A separate statement by the Jerusalem-based Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) - bringing together over 80 humanitarian and development agencies working on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory including Gaza - also argues that “easing is not enough”. Not being able to travel out of Gaza can have catastrophic consequences, they say, noting that, according to the World Health Organisation, 63 people, including 22 children, have died waiting to receive medical care outside of Gaza from February 2008 until June 2010.

The aid groups point out that “the highly restrictive and selective permit regime governing people’s ability to enter or exit Gaza will remain in place” under present proposals. One effect of this is that AIDA members’ staff continue to face significant difficulty travelling to and from Gaza to undertake their development and humanitarian work. Only 39% of permits for staff to enter or leave Gaza were approved by the Israeli authorities in the last two months, they say.

Martha Myers, Chair of AIDA Executive Committee said:

“Ensuring people can move in and out of Gaza is just as much a part of lifting the blockade as the movement of goods. This especially includes patients needing treatment, students with places to take up their studies outside Gaza or aid workers who need to get into Gaza to carry out their vital work.

“We urge the international community, as they continue working with Israel to address the blockade, to make access and movement for Palestinian civilians, as well as humanitarian and development workers, a top priority on their agenda with all the parties.”