On April 2, 2010, Amnesty International USA delivered a petition to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, asking her to urge the Israeli government to lift the blockade of Gaza immediately. More than 23,000 people signed the petition, making it Amnesty International’s most successful Facebook petition to date.

Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip leaves more than 1.4 million Palestinians cut off from necessary and life-saving supplies, exacerbating a situation of extreme and desperate poverty. The blockade restricts the entry of basic goods, such as food and fuel, on which the population depends on for survival.

Israel argues that the blockade is a natural response to the continued attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including the rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel. But the blockade doesn’t distinguish between those responsible for the rocket attacks and those who are just trying to make it through another day. It collectively punishes the entire population of Gaza, including many women and children, who are just trying to survive with no resources.

To learn about similar petitions in the future, please join Amnesty International USA on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amnestyusa

Learn more about the situation in Gaza: http://www.amnestyusa.org/all-countries/israel/occupied-palestinian-territories/page.do?id=1011175

Israel Was Preparing to Attack Gaza Soon After PLO Compromise With Hamas

Clip_255The Middle East peace process was thrown into further jeopardy, when Israel and the United States harshly condemned a new deal announced by feuding Palestinian factions, including the militant group Hamas, to repair their seven-year rift.

Israel canceled a negotiating session scheduled shortly after leaders of the PLO joined hands with their rivals from Hamas at a celebratory ceremony in the Gaza Strip.

“Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace,” the Israeli PM said in a statement, describing the group as “a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

The unity pact, coming days before the April 29 expiration date for the American-brokered peace talks that have been the mainstay of Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenure, surprised officials in Washington, which, like Israel, deems Hamas a terrorist group and forbids direct dealings with it.

After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy in which Kerry pursued the peace process and even dangled the possibility of releasing an American convicted of spying for Israel to salvage the lifeless talks, his spokeswoman called the Palestinian move “disappointing” and the timing “troubling.”

Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” spokeswoman said, citing conditions Hamas has repeatedly rejected. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”

Hamas and Fatah, the faction that dominates the P.L.O., have signed several similar accords before that were not carried out, so it remained unclear whether the new deal promised a real resolution or a replay of an old movie.

The step was primarily seen as a tactic by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to pressure Israel to make concessions as the clock winds down on extending the fraught negotiations. He said in statement that “there is no contradiction at all” between reconciliation and negotiation, adding, “We are totally committed to establishing a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state principle.”

Palestinian political conditions changed since the signing of previous agreements, which could lead both parties to make the compromises necessary to put this one into action. Hamas has been in a deep political and economic crisis since the military-backed government took over Egypt in summer of 2013 and largely cut ties with Gaza. Mr. Abbas, at 79, is looking for a legacy and an exit strategy.

Reconciliation is deeply resonant among Palestinians and could revive the president’s sagging popularity.

“It’s not bad for both sides — it is bad for the peace process,” said an Israeli analyst of Palestinian politics and editor of The Source, an Arabic news website. “It is simply rude, in diplomatic language, when Kerry is doing his last heroic effort to save the peace process, to reward it with reconciliation with a terrorist group. I think this is a message, and it’s very blunt.”

Beyond the damage to the peace talks, joining forces with Hamas could cost the Palestinians millions of dollars in financial aid from the United States and Europe, and prompt a host of retaliatory actions by Israel.

Even as the deal was being announced, there were other signs of tension. An Israeli airstrike hit northern Gaza, apparently missing the militant on a motorcycle it was aiming for and wounding 12 Palestinians, including two children, according to Gaza health officials. Later Wednesday evening, two rockets fired from Gaza landed in open areas of southern Israel.

The schism between Hamas and Fatah began in 2007, with a brief but bloody civil war that followed a failed unity government after Hamas’s victory in 2006 Palestinian elections. It left Palestinian territory divided, with Hamas ruling Gaza, the impoverished and isolated coastal expanse, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority governing the larger and more populous West Bank.

Dreams of reconciliation have been repeatedly dashed, after much-trumpeted agreements signed in Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012 were never carried out.

After two days of meetings at the home of the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp, the Palestinian leaders vowed to form a government of technocrats within five weeks that would prepare for long-overdue elections six months later.

“I announce to our people the news that the years of split are over,” Mr. Haniya said triumphantly.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official who headed the P.L.O. delegation to Gaza, said he hoped the deal would be “a true beginning and a true partnership.”

Ziad Abu Amr, deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and a close aide to Mr. Abbas, said the new deal came about because “the situation has become more demanding and the pressures are rising.” He cited Egypt’s frequent closing of the Rafah border crossing, Gaza’s gateway to the world, which he said a technocratic government could reverse, as well as domestic political concerns.

“It’s a psychological and national issue that Palestinians feel they are united,” Mr. Abu Amr said. “This split is hurting them.”

He and other Palestinian leaders dismissed Israel’s threats and said reconciliation was an internal matter, noting that the presence of extreme right-wing members in Israel’s governing coalition had not stopped Palestinians from participating in the peace talks. They also pointed out that some Israeli leaders had questioned Mr. Abbas’s ability to deliver a peace deal with Hamas controlling Gaza.

“Mr. Netanyahu and his government were using Palestinian division as an excuse not to make peace,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “Now they want to use Palestinian reconciliation as an excuse for the same purpose. This is utterly absurd.”

A senior adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, called the Palestinian deal “a real game changer,” and said, “You cannot have a serious peace process with Hamas inside.”

Israel’s chief negotiator, said the reconciliation was a “very problematic development.”

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department peace negotiator, said Mr. Abbas had “bought peace at home in exchange for significant tensions with the Israelis” and called the move “one more nail to a peace-process coffin that is rapidly being closed.”

Dennis B. Ross, another former American peace envoy, said that the move could make Mr. Abbas “less susceptible to a domestic backlash for continuing the process with the Israelis,” but that “the timing is very problematic — when the process is already faltering, this could be a body blow.”

Only 40 percent of the $3.5 billion donors pledged in October 2014 for Gaza’s reconstruction has been delivered, new World Bank figures reveal.

That’s an increase of only $159 million since the last time the World Bank issued data on the donations in August 2015, and major pledgers continue to fall short: Qatar has given only 15 percent of its $1 billion pledge; Saudi Arabia 10 percent of its $500 million promise; and the UAE just 15 percent of the $200 million it pledged. Kuwait has dispursed none of its $200 million pledge.

The World Bank estimates that if donor funding continues to come in at this sluggish pace, pledges will be fulfilled in mid-2019, almost two years behind schedule.

The 2014 war between Israel, Hamas and other Islamist militants killed 2,000 Palestinians – mostly civilians – 66 Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel. Some 11,000 homes were completely destroyed and another 6,800 severely damaged.

The UN’s emergency aid coordination body OCHA has announced that as of its last survey in February, 90,000 Gazans are still displaced as a result of the fighting.

Experts say that reconstruction has been slow due to limited donor money, Israeli restrictions on imports, and poor governance in Gaza. OCHA estimates that as of February 2016 only 16 percent of homes destroyed in the war have been rebuilt.