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Wednesday, November 16, 2005 

Two sides of Israel.

On the day when an agreement was finally reached over the border crossings into the Gaza strip, an Israeli military court gave carte blanche to the IDF to murder Palestinian children, by acquitting an army officer who shot a 13 year old girl 17 times.

Many Palestinian children have been killed since the break-out of the second intifada, but this case has become well-known thanks to soldiers under the officer's command who want to the press, themselves horrified at his actions. Iman al-Hams seemingly accidentally crossed into a security zone on her way to school. Fearing that her bag may hold a bomb, they fired first near her, causing her to drop her bag and run. The soldiers then shot her bag, confirming that it had no explosives. Most would now assume that the girl had been confused, maybe even dared into entering the security area, and let her go. The military themselves tried to justify what happened next by saying that she may have been trying to lure the soldiers out, but this is discounted when you consider that it was "Captain R" himself that led out some of the troops and then shot the girl. Believing she was dead, he walked up to her body and emptied his entire magazine into the girl's body, 3 of the bullets entering her head, according to the doctor at Rafah hospital.

Despite all this evidence available to the court, he was pronounced not guilty on minor charges. An original investigation found that he had "not acted unethically". In doing so, they are seen to agree with Capt R that anyone that's "mobile" in a security zone, even if it is a three-year-old, has to be killed. At no time were the soldiers threatened. They were stationed in a watchtower, and the girl was 100 yards away from it when she was shot at. One of the soldiers had radioed a colleague at an operations room and described Iman as a "little girl" who was "scared to death". The Israelis have condoned the actions of any soldier that feels like shooting a Palestinian child that accidentally or otherwise enters an area under Israeli control.
They don't even need to be throwing stones at tanks any more for it to be justified.

Away from the cold-blooded judgement of the military court, a deal was signed that does breathe hope into the currently moribund peace process. Gaza has been a prison since the evacuation of the settlers, with all the border crossings shut and all residents unable to leave. This was even worse than the situation which carried on for many years where Palestinians had to request permits to leave Gaza that often never arrived or were refused for the slightest reason.

The deal itself, negotiated with the help of Condoleezza Tanker, isn't in entirely revolutionary but it is a start. The main change is that the EU will oversee the Rafah border crossing, which is likely to make movement through there much easier for all concerned. Israel will though continue to have control of entry from Gaza into Israel, and will no doubt operate the same policy of shutting it off for hours or even days at a time. They also will monitor the crossing from Egypt into Gaza, so that they can stop weapons smuggling. The other main change was that a sea port will finally be built, although Gaza airport will remain closed. It would take a long time to get it up and running anyway, after Israeli bulldozers ripped up the runway a while ago.

The most important part of getting Gaza back up and running though is the transport of goods grown there. Following the evacuation of the settlers, Palestinian farmers have more land which they can work with, which will help to boost the economy which is an a disastrous shape, again thanks to Israel. Under the plan 150 trucks of goods can leave a day, and they hope this will rise to 400 a day once new scanning equipment has been installed. Hopefully this will also help stop produce grown in the occupied territories being marked as Israeli.

What this agreement also shows is that negotiation can work. Ariel Sharon has said that there is no partner for peace at the moment with the Palestinians, when the reality is that Sharon is only interested in emasculating the West Bank and defining the new barrier as the de facto borders of a Palestinian state, if one is ever to be declared. That this will never work doesn't matter to him. He will no doubt go down in history as the first man to broke "real peace". Finally though he is being challenged by the Israeli left, with Amir Peretz surprisingly winning the election for new Labour party leader. He has declared that if he wins the election he will immediately begin new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. With Arafat gone, and the myth around him of being a terrorist who would not negotiate gone with him, there is a real chance that something may well finally be about to change. Don't hold your breath, but this may mark the start of the real hope of peace in Israel.

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