Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Carter: Palestinians treated like 'animals' under Israeli siege

Former US president 'holds back tears' after seeing 'deliberate destruction' of Gaza by Israeli F16s.
GAZA CITY - Former US president Jimmy Carter on Tuesday met democratically elected Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in the Gaza Strip, where he called for a lifting of Israel's blockade, saying Palestinians are being treated "like animals."
Following the talks, Carter called for an end of "all violence" against both Israelis and Palestinians.
"This is holy land for us all and my hope is that we can have peace... all of us are children of Abraham," he said at a joint news conference with Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas government in the Palestinian enclave.
Carter was expected to pass on a letter from the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza resistance including Hamas in a cross-border raid almost three years ago, and who remains in captivity.
Earlier Carter denounced the Israeli blockade and the destruction wrought by its 22-day military offensive against Gaza in December and January.
"My primary feeling today is one of grief and despair and an element of anger when I see the destruction perpetrated against innocent people," Carter said as he toured the impoverished territory.
"Tragically, the international community too often ignores the cries for help and the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings," he said.
"The starving of 1.5 million human beings of the necessities of life -- never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself," Carter said at a UN school graduation ceremony in Gaza City.
The United States and Europe "must try to do all that is necessary to convince Israel and Egypt to allow basic goods into Gaza," he said.
"At same time, there must be no more rockets" from Gaza into Israel, said Carter, who brokered the historic 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
"I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people," he said at a destroyed American school, saying it was "deliberately destroyed by bombs from F16s made in my country."
"I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis," Carter said.
Shortly after entering Gaza, Carter's convoy of white UN 4x4 vehicles stopped briefly in the area of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, one of the most ravaged during the Israeli onslaught at the turn of the year.
The massive destruction in the area has made it a regular stop for the succession of foreign dignitaries who have come to Gaza since the war.
As Carter briefly emerged from his vehicle to look at the damage, one resident ran up, yelling that he wanted to talk to the former US leader, and getting into a brief shoving match with bodyguards.
"They all come here and look at us like we're animals and then they go home," said Majid Athamna. "We're not animals, we're human beings."
"If he wants to come and visit us, he has to listen to us."
In an interview with an Israeli daily published earlier in the week, Carter urged Israel to lift its blockade and stop treating the 1.5 million aid-dependent residents of the Palestinian territory like "savages."
"To me, the most grievous circumstance is the maltreatment of the people in Gaza, who are literally starving and have no hope at this time," Carter told the Haaretz newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
"They're being treated like savages. The alleviation of their plight to some means I think would be the most important (thing) the Israeli PM could do."
Israel's war on Gaza killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and wounded 5,450 others.
Among the dead were 437 children, 110 women, 123 elderly men, 14 medics and four journalists.
The wounded include 1,890 children and 200 people in serious condition.
The war also left tens of thousands of houses destroyed, while their residents remained homeless.
Israel, which wants to crush any Palestinian liberation movement, responded to Hamas's win in the elections with sanctions, and almost completely blockaded the impoverished coastal strip after Hamas seized power in 2007, although a ‘lighter’ siege had already existed before.
Human rights groups, both international and Israeli, slammed Israel’s siege of Gaza, branding it “collective punishment.”
A group of international lawyers and human rights activists had also accused Israel of committing “genocide” through its crippling blockade of the Strip.
Gaza is still considered under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt, Gaza's sole border crossing that bypasses Israel, rarely opens as Egypt is under immense US and Israeli pressure to keep the crossing shut.
Fatah has little administrative say in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and has no power in Arab east Jerusalem, both of which were illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.
Israel also currently occupies the Lebanese Shabaa Farms and the Syrian Golan Heights

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