I can’t exactly remember the last time I took a unilateral decision. It was probably something regarding the ever-regular debate on whether to pay my rent on time and the unilateral decision I made, this is, without the consent or advice of my landlord, proved to be extremely damaging and taught me a lesson my father would have been proud to make himself. This said, I haven’t had my own apartment taken away from me by excessive force nor have I had been under constant oppression for over sixty years, so I can’t really compare the decision Palestine might be taking – unilaterally – to proclaim itself a state, without the consent or advice of Israel.

Yasser Arafat: he had a dream...

The question of recognizing, legally and politically, regionally and internationally, Palestine as a state – with its own government, its own Constitution, its own set of laws and by-laws, and, most importantly and perhaps most decisively, a preset territory, has been at the heart of every potentially successful peace process to be made in the region. There is no possibility to discuss a two-state solution of only one of the parties is actually a State. There is no negotiation to be made between heads of State if only one of the two parties is indeed a diplomatically recognized head of State. There is no legitimacy to be claimed over a territory if there is no State to organize nationwide democratic elections. Moreover, there is no population without a State, as the Palestinians can not claim national protections. Whose and which nationals are they, exactly? Which force is there to protect them from oppression and guarantee them freedom and labour, and if a force stands up and claims it will, how legitimate can it be? The situation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West’s heated debate over whether or not this is a legitimate government or a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah is adding fuel to the pan and destroying every embryo of a negotiation. For as long as there is no such thing as a Palestinian state, Palestinians are nothing but Israel’s political prisoners, collateral damage of a forceful sionism that was not even entirely supported by a Jewish community already saturated by the hate and violence they endured.

In short: Palestine wants to be recognized as a State. Israel refuses. The issue of whether the land between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will be attributed to either of the parties is at stake and Israel has much to gain in maintaining a status quo. But after the much criticized Goldstone report, a decision regarding the region has to be reached. The United States, for the first time in a very long time, is pushing towards a two-state solution. This seems to be the only solution. No matter how hard the right-wing Israeli parties are dragging their feet, this is the only outcome. Except that Mahmoud Abbas, currently the leader of the Palestinian authorities, for lack of a better expression, has declared he might take upon himself to do what Yasser Arafat himself did not do – claim a Palestinian state, following the borders created by the 1967 agreement.

Liebermann, currently Prime Minister of Israel, has replied to this claim with as much of a negative answer one could come up with without resorting to weapons of russian manufacture; and President Shimon Peres himself called to a cooling off of the situation, saying that “anger in Palestine must not be turned into a political agenda.” With negotiations at a standstill, and Hamas struggling to maintain a pseudo-democratic facade, how long will Palestine sustain a relative peaceful and downlow demeanour without access to their demands? The White House and the European Union having hurt a wall during their mediation sessions with Israel last summer, Liebermann being strictly opposed to a two-state solution and even refused to freeze Israeli settlements in the West Bank, can a unilateral action, the very opposite of diplomatic action, can be endorsed? What kind of response are we to expect from Israel, if not an armed force one, justified by the fact that their own borders have been unilaterally claimed frioom one side without the consent of the other?

And what will become of the East Jerusalem Palestinians, Jewish Arabs, citizens with no state and residents with no territory, temporary living heads on borrowed time, allowed by a reluctant authority to cultivate the land they have had for millenia? What will become of the brand new settlers, forced to retract backwards, and not knowing which authority to turn to? Should a third party be named and called upon this issue in order to make the decision neither Israel nor Palestine is willing to do without force? What would even happen to a brand new Palestinian state if the decision brings back the painful memories of the blood-spilling power struggle between Fatah and Hamas? Is Palestine capable of running its own people democratically, peacefully, in full cooperation with its reluctant neighbor, and liberating the Gaza Strip without those collateral damages we have become a little too acquainted with?

This is one simple decision, but raising a plethora of questions no one is quite ready to address yet. Unilateral decisions are never favored on the diplomatic scene, for the simple reason they always rile up the party that has not been consulted, like in any divorce, any conflictual relationship, any divided, segregated area. But what if finally standing up to the test and making the decision everyone has been waiting for and hedging one’s bets was the only solution left for the Middle East? What if Palestine had to take their chances?

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A historical member of the Order of Colons, whose name is already enough to send chills down your postmodern spine, Pinchas Wallerstein is
waging a war on progressive western leaders calling for a complete freeze of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The 64th UN General Assembly, considerably divided on the issue, is feeling more than uncomfortable witnessing the rise of extremist opinions regarding the everlasting middleeastern conflict, fearing that no future could soon be contemplated.

Barack Obama reaffirmed his support to Israel and the need for the country to be “supported” – understand, militarily and financially backed up against the alleged constant threat of Hamas rocket launches on the other side of the Jerusalem wall; yet, the new leader of the free world has managed to state in clear, unambiguous word what had been expected from the United States for so long: that America “can not accept” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, confined in the lifesize camp of Gaza or in remote, endangered and underdeveloped villages all over the Holy Land. A statement that comes just a week after the groundbreaking release of the UN Human Rights Council rapport on Palestine, accusing Israel of war crimes and “possibly” crimes against humanity – short of genocide, those two accusations are the two top crimes on the international law ladder. Israel, until now benefiting from some sort of special treatment from western country in regard to the difficulties faced from being located at the heart of muslim fundamentalism and suffering the aftermath of the Holocaust, is expected to behave like a nation-state abiding by international law and respecting the fundamental rights of people. Those rights – mostly self-determination – are strongly contested by Wallerstein, who believes the extension of Israeli territory is a matter of life or disappearance for Israel.

“Colonialism is absolutely necessary to permanently draw the borders of Israel”, Wallerstein explains (1). “This jewish presence, everywhere, is
fundamental to stopping the creation of a Palestinian state.” At least the vocabulary is not tainted by any hint of political correctness:
Wallerstein has never believed that the Palestinian land could belong to none other than the Jewish people, and is quick to stress that while
it is indeed deeply rooted in his attachment to sionism, he is also considering the overall well-being of Israelis and their safety. “Beyond my sionist conviction that leads me to believe that this land is ours, another State on this side of the Jordan River would represent a danger for Israel. Palestinians have no right to this land”. Sadly for Wallerstein, history and the law are saying otherwise.

Pinchas Wallerstein (second from left): another one preaching violence in the name of ideology

Pinchas Wallerstein (second from left): another one preaching violence in the name of ideology

Although most legal scholars and western leaders already consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be too involved in the settlement plan to compromise with on the two-state solution, Pinchas Wallerstein is something else entirely: not bound by any political consideration or diplomatic necessity, Wallerstein is strongly opposed to a two-state solution, and claims that Palestinians should be purely and simply driven out. The Order of Colons, the Yesha, despite not holding any political mandate, maintains strong and close ties with government members.  Wallerstein never fails to point that his endlessly ringing phone is a hotline to Jerusalem where his the stronghold of his lobby is solid enough to be a non-negligeable influence in the dawn of a still hypothetical peace process. Despite a growing number of Israeli citizens simply wishing for a peaceful and respectable nation abiding by international regulations and staying away from ethnic conflict and constant threat of over destructive war, sionism seems to be the ideology fueling the engine of Israel’s successive governments – with the ever so popular belief that without regular and proportional expansion, Israel will be invaded by Palestinians claiming their territory back. Israel’s isolation inside the Middle East, stuck between Lebanon and Syria, is creating a realistic fear of attack. Yet Israel refuses to understand that its colonizing attitude is precisely what nurtures a feeling a vengeance that can’t be put out. Wallerstein may fight in the name of ideology, and may have given a leg to his faith in sionism – but many will keep on falling and bleeding instead of upholding, if not peace itself, at least a statu quo.

According to statistics, 300,000 Israeli colons are now living in the West Bank. 195,000 of them would be in East-Jerusalem, traditionally an
Arab zone.

(1) In an interview to Le Monde, September 25

Erin Cunningham is a 25 years old journalism rising star currently living in Gaza City. She’s collaborated with us in the past, specifically providing insight into the Gazean lifestyle post-Israeli strike last February, giving us fantastic photographic evidence of the damage caused by a rogue foreign policy practised by Israel. She agreed to sit down with us in-between two power cuts to talk about her career, Middle Eastern politics, and the future of Palestine.

Formerly based in Cairo for the most part of 2008, Erin perfected her knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, arabic, and honed her writing skills by being one of the first journalists allowed to cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt after the Israeli raids destroyed the city in January. Covering the aftermath for the Inter Press Service, Erin witnessed first-hand the disaster that had been created by  a policy based on fear, intolerance, and unconsciousness. Shortly after her coverage, she briefly returned to her native California, only to make a swift trip back to Gaza. “What I saw during those three days, and the unbelievable destruction afterward, changed me. It changed the way I thought about war, about life, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about journalism and about finding greater meaning in my future work”, she explains. As for now, Erin is no longer a simple journalist, but chronicles the every day lives of a people she feels extraordinary compassion for. “I decided it was time to go back to Gaza to pursue not only what I felt would be meaningful and rewarding work for myself, but also a way of telling the story of Gazans that presents them not just as blood-thirsty suicide bombers, but as people. People who have dreams, who tell jokes, who love their children, love the sea, and whose spirits and lives are being crushed by this crippling economic siege — and now war. “

Now living in Gaza City like any other resident, Erin Cunningham is giving us a compelling glimpse of assieged life.

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Erin, with neighbour Islam Shawhan

Semi-autonomous Collective: what are your actual living conditions, and what does it tell us about the siege Gaza City is currently under?

My living conditions are okay, but that doesn’t say much. Currently I’m living in the apartment of a friend who was forced to leave Gaza during the Hamas-Fatah clashes of 2007. It is a nice building, in a middle-class neighborhood, but power outages occur daily. They have become more frequent as of late, and I only have power for a few hours a day now. This means that I can’t heat water for baths (which I take out of a bucket because the water pressure is so low), and most of the food in my refrigerator goes bad. Of course, I have it better than most and remind myself of that every day.

Meat, fruits, vegetables and anything else not available in the food aid packets distributed by the UN are terribly expensive. They are not always available, depending mainly on the amount of livestock being smuggled in through the tunnels. “Supermarkets” are sparsley stocked, and don’t even think about variety. You’ll often find cans of tuna, beans, cooking oil and packets of salt and sugar. One thing Gazans have made sure gets in, however, is chocolate, and there is more chocolate in Gaza than anything else.

As far was water goes, the situation is pretty dire. The majority of Gaza’s water supplies are contaminated, mainly from the dumping of raw sewage into groundwater supplies as a result of dilapidated infrastructure, and are not safe to drink. Bottled water is expensive (3 shekels or $.75 for 1.5 liters), as is the installation of a water filter. Water treatment plants were damaged during the war, and it’s obvious given the size of the Gaza Strip (40 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide) and the size of its population (1.5 million) that they are going to face major problems in the future in terms of not only securing safe sources of drinking water, but building the infrastructure to make it available.

Israel’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Avgador Liebermann, said, during a recent trip in Europe,  that there was no way Israel would ever go back to its 1967 boundaries, and that in any case, it wouldn’t resolve the conflict; that East Jerusalem could never be Palestine’s capital city, “that it had always been, is, and will always be Israel’s true heart”. What do you think will happen to Gaza? Do you think it’ll eventually be wiped off the map or perhaps swallowed by new colons?

There’s already talk of the fact that Gaza may be Egypt’s “problem” once again, now that Israel has “disengaged” (meaning that while it evacuated settlements in Gaza, it retains control over the territory’s airspace, borders, and sea access) and effectively sealed its borders with the territory. Many are afraid that if the Palestinian factions reach a power-sharing agreement, and Egypt opens its only border crossing with Gaza at Rafah, that it will give an opportunity for Israel to wash its hands of Gaza once and for all while it increases settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The argument is they want Israel to continue to bear responsibility for Gaza, so that it keeps Gaza and the West Bank, also occupied by Israel, connected for any future Palestinian state.

If that were to happen, and Israel were to “wash its hands” of Gaza by creating facts on the ground, I think it would be devastating politically for the Palestinians. But I’ve talked to a handful of Palestinians here, even those in the Hamas-led government, that say if that did happen, it’s very unlikely Gazans would acquiese to become part of Egypt. Palestinians here seem much more fervent in their attachment to Palestine, and maintain the world’s highest birthrate. That spells trouble for both Egypt and Israel in the coming years, and as long as the idea of Palestine or at least a rump Palestinian state is kept alive, Gaza is unlikely to disappear into Egypt any time soon.

For most of the international community, the nightmare Gaza went through in January/February is over. You were recently telling me about airstrikes. How often do they occur, and what are their targets?

The airstrikes happen once or twice a week it seems, there’s no real pattern. They are obviously nowhere near the levels they were during the war nor are they as frequent or as deadly as they were even prior to the war, or last year at this time prior to the 6-month cease-fire.

What seems to be happening is the Israeli army and the armed Palestinian groups are doing tit-for-tat strikes. They both say they are reacting to the other, but in all it has been fairly calm. The majority of the bombing happens either at the border areas with Israel or on the tunnels. I believe it was two weeks ago when an F-16 bombed a blacksmith’s shop in Gaza City, probably the first of strike of its kind away from the border areas since the war.

Shelling from the sea is daily, however. Even inland (although Gaza is not that wide), you can hear Israeli warships firing on Palestinian fisherman. Rarely are people are killed, but it is a constant reminder that Gaza is under siege. It should be also noted that while air strikes don’t necessarily happen daily, that F16s do fly over the strip every day, and unmanned drones fly over the border areas 24 hours a day. You can imagine the damaging psychological impact it is having on the population.

The danger is and remains that the horror experienced by Gaza residents fall into the pit of oblivion, leaving a population of over a million deal with the increasing lack of food security, oppression and eventually displacement, if not complete disappearance, of what was once their home. Despite the constant insistence from the European Union and the slight shift in attitude showed by the Obama Administration, who is keen to insist on a double-state solution to the conflict, tiredness and reluctance from Israel to participate into any sort of peace process will eventually hinder the willingness to provide peace. Are we on the verge of settling for the worse instead of fighting for the best? Erin has no answer to the current state of affairs, but insists that everyone must keep in mind that the lives of millions of Palestinians do not reside in the hands of Hamas, but in those of a relentless international community committed to the respect of basic human rights. “It all of course depends on the continued will to create a Palestinian state among leaders in the international community. If Palestine isn’t created soon, and Gaza slowly becomes an appendage of Egypt, the international community may very well get fed up with the Palestinian cause later on and abandon it completely, no matter how many more Palestinians there are. A United Nations rapporteur on Gaza once said, ‘Gaza is a prison, and Israel threw away the key.'”

You can read more of Erin Cunningham’s works on Sift Through The Rubble @ Blogspot (with our friend and colleague Cassidy Flanagan), IPSnews.com and Associated Content.

They say music soothes the most savage beast, but when it comes to the West Bank, most people are at a loss when it comes to figure out what could end the bloodshed and start an eventual process of co-existence. As often in those instances, the most peculiar ideas bring the most happiness, and it is in Gaza City that several rotating music teachers have found their most dedicated students – assieged children and teenagers seeking refuge from Israeli bombshells in Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

from the Episcopal Vocational Training Center in Ramallah

from the Episcopal Vocational Training Center in Ramallah

Classical music is certainly not part of their traditional heritage, but it is through their timeless and flawless melodies that aspiring violinists and solo flutists manage to extend their imagination beyond the wall separating them from Israel and from the rest of the world. Living in decaying and destroyed villages next to colonies, or even in refugee camps, the sound of string quartets have started to emerge from the burning ashes of Ramallah or in Gaza City, still recovering from the 22-day war with Israel in January. Reanimating a resemblance of a cultural life might seem superificial when basic needs are not met and the threat of violence is a daily concern, but in the current climate, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still refuses to address the possibility of a Palestinian state despite American and European pressure, attending to one’s musical ambitions is a hope for normality, a call to resistance under the crushing asphyxia. Speaking to the International Herald Tribune, George Diek, an oboe teacher in Bethleem, explains the motivation: “Deep inside, it is to demonstrate that we are alive, that we deserve to be alive and have our own culture.”

Because everything somehow has to be manipulated and instrumentalized, a concert honoring the memory of Holocaust victims was swiftly banned by the Palestinian authorities – under Hamas’  iron fist – under the pretext it “served enemy’s interests”. The very idea of compassion not knowing any borders, legal or imaginary, never crossed the collective minds of respective governments basking in the lights of their mutual ignorance of each other’s lives, histories, customs and practices, even those they might have in common. That attempt at creating a little island of humanity and tolerance within the core of a seemingly endless war might have been aborted, but this will hardly stop music schools from burgeoning all over the West Bank. Wafaa Younis, one of the music teachers behind the project, also in the difficult position of being an Israeli Arab, choose to overlook the decision.  A music festival will also take place in Jerusalem later this month, and a Baroque festival was set up in December.

The Barenboim-Said Foundation, created by Daniel Barenboim (an Israeli conductor and pianist) in collaboration with Edward Said, the late Palestinian historian, is one of the major actors in the setting up of music schools and the possibility for gifted Palestinian children to win scholarships to study abroad. The Foundation itself is a proof that Israelis and Palestinians can indeed not simply coexist, but work together to create something that is of a benefit to both population, in an educative, non-violent and socially progressive way. For now, music schools will have to settle with providing students with an escape, a flowering imagination, and the dream of better, wider landscapes in which death is not a constant and regular guest at the dinner table. Which is already way more than anyone ever gave to Gaza City.

When you’re feeling down and out and thinking this world has killed every blushing ashes of imagination, take comfort in the fact Israel will always spark up new ideas and acting on them. Taking the concept of mad scientistry to a whole new level, they may now have a new kink in their steel: the creation of a new crime against humanity. Surely that’s something to be proud of.

crimes against humanity vs collateral damage: more than just legal rhetoric.

crimes against humanity vs collateral damage: more than just legal rhetoric.

According to Richard Falk, the United Nations’ rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, Israel’s systematic attempt to gather Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and regularly bomb them, without giving them any chance to flee or to retreat into other areas – increasingly taken over by new settlements – constitute a crime against humanity. “Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity, and should be formally recognised as such, and explicitly prohibited,” Falk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. Under the pretense of attempting to destroy Hamas, allegedly hiding within civilian zones and humanitarian buildings, Israel killed over 1,300 Palestinians last January, in just three weeks.  For the United Nations, this is closing in on genocide a little too much.

Lest we shake in fear for Israel’s Nobel Prize in military strategy: the United States has vehemently reacted to the report, saying it was “biased” and “anything but fair”, which is, really, a case of misunderstanding, as the United States’ Department of Defense has never shown anything resembling, even remotely, fairness and impartiality in the five-decades long conflict that has divided the post-Cold War world in allies and axes of evil. The clash of civilization we all thought we were too evolved to ever experience is now blowing in our faces.  Falk wasn’t the only one to blow the whistle on Israel’s cleansing policies – his commentary on human rights violations were a part of a nine-part report regarding access to health care, food availability, adequate housing and education, adding to legal issue posed by summary executions and the treatment of women. The Gaza Strip is nothing more than what the name describes  – a strip of land covering 40km in length and hardly 10 in width, in which are crammed approx. 1.5 million people. The fear of carpet bombing and Israeli retaliation is just one side of the desperate scheme of their lives.

As usual, victimization seems to be the only response to factual accusations based on statistic and empirical evidence.  The only answer Aharon Leshno Yar, Israel’s ambassador the United Nations council, could come up with is a year-old badly rehearsed speech on how Hamas destroyed South Israel with their rockets; obviously, and obnoxiously so, this appeared as a legitimate ground to completely legally bomb and destroy Palestinians, falling into the collateral damage category as human shield between a vehemently belligerent party and a state that has never known the rule of law. Political chaos and legal values pushed aside in the name of national pride has driven Palestinians outside of their own homes, that is, if they had any to begin with. 40% of the Gaza population are unemployed, and 72% are living under the poverty threshold.

In this context, common sense is hardly ever common, and absurdity prevails. Richard Falk, pressured by the United States to justify himself on a topic that should be self-explanatory, explained that if Israel is not capable of differentiating military targets from civilians, then it shouldn’t strike at all. In Gaza’s case, “the attacks [are] inherently unlawful, and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law”, Falk underlines with the greatest possible emphasis on the legal side of the coin, which he believes should have a stronger appeal to nation states than “simple” and perhaps “biased” visions of human rights. Taking as much distance as one possibly can in such circumstances, appealing to reason and objectivity, Falk is basing his conclusions on what he witnessed first-hand, empirical information given to him not as a human rights fighter, but a United Nations rapporteur, in all the complexity and respectability the position entails. In return, Falk has been expelled from Israel, who didn’t really appreciate Falk’s interpretation of international criminal law.

Under international criminal law, as defined by the article 6 of the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity consist in “particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings.”  Law precises that “[…] political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.” If the term was first coined in 1915 to describe the Armenian Genocide, crimes against humanity entered international law with the Nüremberg Trials, where officiers of the Nazi regime were judged for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Jewish population in Europe.

By Erin Cunningham for semi-autonomous collective

“We have nothing left, even our houses,” says Ibrahim Jaleel, crouched in front of what is left of his home in Rafah in the Gaza Strip — a contorted mass of concrete, metal and household appliances. “We’re not even allowed to get the materials to rebuild.”


A “unilateral cease-fire” called by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night gave Palestinians the chance to emerge — and some cases even return home after having been displaced — on Sunday to assess the damage wreaked on them by the devastating Israeli assault that has been raging for over three weeks and has killed at least 1,200 Palestinians, one-third of them children, according to both Gaza health officials and the United Nations.

Despite the recent carnage, which carried on until the last minutes before the 2:00am cease-fire deadline on Sunday, there is a palpable sense of relief in the air. Shops are opening their doors for business — selling everything from falafel and Saudi soda to clothes and barrels of petrol — and children have even taken to playing pick-up games of football in the all-too-ubiquitous rubble.

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

Witnessing the destruction and constant bombardment of the past several days, it seems Gazans will seize any chance to live even a moment of normalcy amid an all-out war on their territory, which some are calling the deadliest ever. But the low, menacing whine of unmanned drones in the sky above is a crude reminder that no, for the people of Gaza, this war is not yet over.

In Rafah, a divided city that straddles the besieged enclave’s southern border with Egypt, it looks like a wasteland. Homes and other buildings have not only been struck by missiles, but completely leveled by some of Israel’s most powerful and most sophisticated weaponry. An entire stretch of homes spanning at least one kilometer and facing the Egyptian border are simply gone. The ominous skeleton of a four-storey building looms over the crowds there to dig, pick-up the pieces and salvage what is left of their lives and their families.

The Israeli government says Rafah was targeted for its role in receiving the goods smuggled through tunnels dug under the Egyptian border, and which have proliferated since the elected Islamist movement Hamas took the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces loyal to current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel claims the underground network has allowed Hamas to arm itself with more deadly weapons capable of landing deeper into Israeli territory.

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

© 2009 Erin Cunningham

Even if this is the case, local Gazans are saying, the tunnels were a vital lifeline to a population economically starved by its neighbors. As a testament to that, even the goods sold at local kiosks are caked with the dirt of the subterranean passageways. Regardless, Rafah’s destruction is both devastating and indiscriminate. Rifling through his belongings atop a mound of wreckage, Abdel Karim, a 24-year-old Palestinian journalist, decries the apparent randomness of the Israeli attacks that have so far hit hospitals, schools, the United Nations and humanitarian convoys.

“What could they possibly want to bomb here?” he asks with tears in his eyes. “My only computer? My cans of food? My mother? The ironic thing is, I’m actually a supporter of Fatah.”
But despite the relative calm of Sunday, many are skeptical their lives will be peaceful for long. And those who are returning to Rafah during the lull may not have somewhere to flee a second time around, if Israel decides to break the cease-fire. The UN says at least 800 families were forced to leave the area.

“I don’t believe the Israeli government when they say they will stop killing us,” says 12-year-old Wafa as she emerges from her debris-littered bedroom. “They have never been anything but destructive to us, and I can still hear the drones.”
Just hours before the cease-fire, Israeli missiles were striking residential areas in both Rafah and Khan Younis, one of the narrow coastal territory’s major population centers ‑- falling just outside the walls of Khan Younis’ main hospital – and F16s swept low over the cities, sending people running in terror.

As Ehud Olmert was announcing the cease-fire on television, battleship machine guns pounded targets near the Khan Younis coastline, cutting the city’s power for the night. So when the missile-carrying drones, what locals call “zananah”, or pest, for their incessant buzzing, a Palestinian woman and her three daughters were sifting through the ruins of her home, they looked warily toward the sky. “Every day we live our lives in fear,” she said. “They say there is a cease-fire, but we don’t know. The power is in their hands. I don’t know if I’m safe right now, in my home, I don’t know if I’ll ever be safe again.”

Erin shared a set of 45 compelling, magistral photos taken last week in Gaza City, added to the already existing Flickr account. You can check them here. Warning: some pictures may not be suitable to sensitive individuals.

Erin Cunningham is a journalist based in Cairo and is collaborating with Semi-autonomous Collective since January 2009 as a special correspondant in the Gaza Strip.

It appears Israel finally caved to the international pressure and declared itself ready to declare a ceasefire in Gaza, paramount to enter the Egypt-engineered peace talks.

Livni and Rice on the agreement towards Hamas decommission. © New York Times

Livni and Rice on the agreement towards Hamas' decommission. © New York Times

Tonight, Israel is expected to put all the weapons down and keep their armed forces in place while the details of the peace talks are being worked out in Cairo. Mark Regev, Ehud Olmert’s spokesperson, told the New York Times about the feelings surrounding the operation: “It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat.” This upbeat atmosphere will hopefully reach a positive, upbeat ending leading to the upbeat burial of the 1,133 Palestinians killed during the Gaza offensive in the scope of only twenty-one days. We at Semi-autonomous Collective are sharing that giddy feeling of entering upbeat peace negotiations.

In the meantime, in the upbeat spirit of the last couple of days, Israel is reminding the Palestinians that the ceasefire has not yet been signed and ratified;  an UN official – probably the same one that was injured in the bombing of the UN headquarters – told Reuters that an Israeli tank fire killed two boys at a United Nations-run school on Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya.  Because misery loves company, two brothers had been killed and 14 people had been wounded in the attack, including the boys’ mother. The New York Times reports that “An Israeli army spokesman said that he was checking the report.” Glad to know that the Israeli bureaucracy has yet to be affected by the conflict. I hope said spokesman reads fast.

The irony is far from over: Tzipi Livni, whom we praised last year for her post-modern position on the conflict, met with Condoleezza Rice in order to come up with an agreement on “a range of steps the United States would take to stem the flow of new arms to Hamas from the Egyptian Sinai, mostly via tunnels.” After allegedly helping Hamas come to power, the United States are engineering a short-circuit of their weapon supplies, which is not without resembling their not-so-ancient conundrum with the Talibans in Afghanistan. It would also be a little too much to ask, three days before the passation of powers in Washington, some understanding regarding the american funding of Israel’s firepower so as to prevent another disproportionate and unfair use of force against the Palestinian population. First: drain the concurrence. Second: take a brief look at international law. Everyone has their priorities straight.

Oddly enough, Hamas appears to be completely unimpressed by Israel’s participation in the peace talks and calls for an increase in resistance. The leader, Khaled Meshal, was quoted as saying, “Israel will not be able to destroy our resistance, and the United States will not be able to dictate us their rules. Arab countries should help Hamas to fight against the death of civilian Palestinians.” This world is coming to an extremely sad conclusion when it takes religious fundamentalists with a keen spirit on guerrilla violence to finally say what the rest of the world has been quietly thinking in the relative comfort of their double-mortgaged homes.  As apocalyptic and potentially Huntington-ish this address might sound, this is a formidable call for independance the Palestinians would find it hard not to heed.

Livni confessed Israel had “met its war aims” and was “ready to enter peace talks”, hoping Hamas understood Israel”s “deterrent capacity”. (we would think not). She continued: “We did that a few days ago, in my opinion. It has to be put to the test. If Hamas shoots, we’ll have to continue. And if it shoots later on, we’ll have to embark on another campaign.” Israel refuses to confer any legitimacy to Hamas, despite being democratically elected in last year’s elections; Hamas has firmly embedded the idea of Israel’s destruction into its party line. Both parties’ reluctancy to come to terms with violence made Egypt cautious in its approach, and while Israel and Hamas never met officially, Cairo brokered the talks in shuttle diplomacy. Rice stayed silent on the precise time and date of the ceasefire, but promised everything was being to done to put this conflict to an end.

A funeral for a senior Hamas official, Interior Minister Said Siam, who was killed Thursday by an Israeli attack, turned into a mass rally in Gaza City.

Not really the end – more like an extremely bitter and bloody beginning.