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Thursday, November 03, 2005 

Israel breaches international law, inflicts collective punishment on Palestinians. No one says anything.

It's been whispered for a while that Israel has been tormenting the population of Gaza since the evacuation of the Jewish settlers with so-called "sonic bombs": flying a super-sonic aircraft over the Strip at low-altitude, breaking the sound barrier, resulting in a terrifying noise which causes shock waves, breaks windows and making cracks in buildings. It seems that since the IDF accidentally produced one of these bombs too far inside Israel, causing panic in Tel Aviv, that the matter has come to the attention of many more people.

The Palestinian health ministry says the sonic booms have led to miscarriages and heart problems. The United Nations has demanded an end to the tactic, saying it causes panic attacks in children. The shock waves have also damaged buildings by cracking walls and smashing thousands of windows.

"I have never heard such a loud explosion. I thought it was right over the top of my building," said the owner, Tareq Dayyeh. "Sometimes you hear the rockets the Israelis fire but this was different. I felt like I was in the middle of a bomb. When I ran out the door I thought I might find the rest of the street was gone."

Over the past week, Israeli jets created 28 sonic booms by flying at high speed and low altitude over the Gaza Strip, sometimes as little as an hour apart through the night. During five days in late September, the air force caused 29 sonic booms.

A senior Israeli army intelligence source, who the military would not permit to be named, said the tactic is intended to break civilian support for armed Palestinian groups. "We are trying to send a message in a way that doesn't harm people. We want to encourage the Palestinian public to do something about the terror situation," he said. "What are the alternatives? We are not like the terrorists who shoot civilians. We are cautious. We make sure nobody is really hurt."

Yesterday, two medical human rights groups asked the Tel Aviv high court to outlaw the use of sound bombs on the grounds it amounts to illegal collective punishment and is detrimental to health.

"The stress is phenomenal," said Eyad El Sarraj, a psychologist and director of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, one of the groups filing the petition. "The Israelis do it after midnight and then every one or two hours. You try to go to sleep and then there's another one. When it happens night after night you become exhausted. You get a heightened sense of alert, waiting continuously for it to happen. People suffer hypertension, fatigue, sleeplessness.

"For children, the loud noise means danger. Adults may know it's only a sound but small children feel threatened. They are crying and clinging to their parents. Afterwards they are dazed and fearful, waiting for something to happen."

The UN Palestinian refugee agency said a majority of the patients seen at its clinics as a result of the sonic booms were under 16 and suffering from symptoms such as anxiety attacks, bedwetting, muscle spasms, temporary loss of hearing and breathing difficulties.

Although the Israelis say the shockwaves do not cause casualties, doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital said the overflights had forced women to miscarry. The number of miscarriages had increased by 40%, according to Jumaa Saqqa, a surgeon and hospital spokesman. "There were no other symptoms and the rise happened after the sonic booms. We can see no other explanation. The number of patients admitted to the cardiac care unit doubled. Some of them proved to have suffered serious harm."

Dr Saqqa said one overflight occurred while he was operating. The Palestinian health ministry estimates the sonic booms have caused at least 20 miscarriages.

The UN's Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, wrote to the Israeli high command this week saying he was "deeply concerned at the impact on children, particularly infants, of the use of sonic booms".

Mr de Soto said he did not accept that the tactic was a legitimate response to Islamic Jihad and Hamas firing rockets into Israeli towns. "Sonic booms are an indiscriminate instrument, the use of which punishes the population collectively. We ask therefore that their use be stopped without delay," the letter said.

Compare the response to this to the admittedly much more inflammatory but rhetorical remarks of the Iranian president last week. While Israel called for Iran to be expelled from the UN and Blair rattled the sabre, Israel was actually breaking international law. That's forgetting the numerous UN resolutions which Israel is in breach of, and the ones which get vetoed by the United States.

If anything, this shows the depths which Israel continues to sink to. The Palestinian people refuse to be broken by their indiscriminate attacks, and they regarded the disengagement from Gaza as a victory for armed resistance. While it wasn't, and they are now paying the price for daring to openly celebrate it, sonic bombs are not going to make the residents of Gaza give up their support for the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is more likely to entrench it further. Israel continues to demand the disarming of Hamas by the Palestinian Authority, despite knowing full well that any attempt by the PA to do so would lead to civil war, something which Israel would welcome with open arms. The sad thing is that after all the publicity surrounding the Gaza evacuation, Israel has continued to assassinate and make Palestinians lives a misery. They continue to emasculate the West Bank with the so-called security barrier, so that they can make that the new de-facto border when Sharon decides to impose his full "peace" plan. All this is going on under the noses of the international community, and they say nothing. They're more interested in damning old Iranian rhetoric than removing the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East and anger in Muslims worldwide.

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