TIME Gaza

A U.N. School Is No Refuge as the War Worsens in Gaza

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Palestinian civilians wounded during Israeli shelling of a U.N. school wait at the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014 Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

A strike on a U.N. school being used as a refuge in Gaza leaves 15 people dead, and puts more international pressure on Israel

Seventeen times, officials from the U.N. called their contacts in the Israeli army to give them the exact GPS coordinates of a U.N. school in the Jabalya Refugee Camp. “There was fighting very close by and the staff there was very alarmed,” Christopher Gunness, the spokesman of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees, tells TIME. “We told them what the precise coordinates were.”

Despite the worried calls, the Jabalya Elementary Girls School was hit just after the early morning call to prayer Wednesday, when most of the 3,000 people taking shelter there were asleep. A few minutes later, the school was hit by a second explosion, in which a shell or a rocket crashed through the roof of the building. Fifteen people were killed and more than 100 injured.

However it happened, the devastating attack of the U.N. school seems such an egregious example of killing innocent civilians that it could be a turning point in the three-week-old war between Israel and Hamas that senior U.S., European and Middle Eastern officials have so far failed to halt. Strong condemnations have come in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the strike “unjustifiable,” as well as from the White House. It is the second time over the past several days that a U.N. school has been hit, and the sixth such incident since the war began.

The refugees at Jabalya “are people who were told to leave their homes by the IDF,” Gunness says. As a result, there are 200,000 Gazans around the Strip living in 85 shelters, leaving UNRWA and other aid agencies struggling to provide for their most basic needs. That includes water, which is trucked in because most of the tap water in Gaza is undrinkable even during peacetime. “We can’t offer safe sanctuary. We ask people to respect the inviolability of our offices.” Earlier in the day, Gunness tweeted: “UNRWA condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.”

Israeli forces, however, have not taken responsibility for the attack on the school. As it did after fiery destruction of a power plant a day earlier, which seemed to indicate Israel was not just striking military targets but also the kind of basic civilian infrastructure that could permanently affect the more than 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, the IDF said it was checking the incident and could not confirm who had hit the school.

“We don’t target U.N. facilities in any way, shape or form,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner tells TIME. He describes the IDF’s version of events: “In the early hours of the morning, there was mortar fire launched from the vicinity of the school and there was an exchange of fire there. In the aftermath of that, there was a report of deaths in the school. We are reviewing this incident.”

Lerner says that in the past few days, there have been “several attempts by Hamas to pin on Israel launches from the Gaza Strip” that didn’t go as planned, landing on civilians instead of in Israel. “There are two cases in which we are aware of — the Beach Camp [Shati] and the attack on Shifa Hospital — which were the result of rockets that were definitely launched in Gaza.” As for UNRWA’s 17 distressed calls to the Israeli army, Lerner said that the location of the U.N. schools was not the issue. “We know where their schools are, as well as shelters and warehouses, and we have an ongoing relationship with their offices in Gaza to facilitate their humanitarian work on the ground. In fact, the humanitarian cease-fire today was to enable their ongoing activities.”

That cease-fire — though a four-hour lull or pause would be a more precise description — was declared by Israel in part because of U.N. requests, ostensibly to allow emergency workers to go out into the field and to remove bodies from the ruins. Hamas, for its part, has refused to participate in any cease-fires unilaterally declared by Israel, and continued launching several rockets even during the cease-fire, adding to the more than 2,670 that have been fired since July 7. During this so-called lull, Israeli warplanes struck a crowded market in Shujaiyeh, killing 15 people. Shujaiyeh, an area in the eastern part of Gaza City, has witnessed the heaviest bombardment by the IDF since it began its ground operation, with many of the buildings reduced to ruins.

At the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip, Said Sulaiman sits over the bed of his son Rezeq, who was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the U.N. School in Jabalya. As instructed by the Israeli army, two weeks ago they decided to flee their house in Atattra, near Beit Lahia — an agricultural area that in the past has been used by Hamas and other militants for launching rockets — and came to seek shelter at the U.N. school.

“I came to the school in search of a safe place. My family is still in the school while I am here, and I hope no strikes will happen while I am away,” says Sulaiman, 55. “We are waiting here in the room until the operation room is ready to take him into surgery. I hope they won’t have to amputate his leg. I just want to return to my house with my family safe after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and for the aggression to stop.”

A more lasting cease-fire still seems elusive, however. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed Wednesday night to intensify attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza and to keep destroying tunnels. The night before, Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that only Israel lifting its blockade of Gaza would be enough for the militant group to agree to a cease-fire.

A Hamas-made video released on the same night, showing militants infiltrating Israel via a tunnel, successfully ambushing and killing five Israeli soldiers near Nahal Oz, has only confirmed for the government that the tunnels still pose a danger, encouraging the government to continue the fight. A poll released Tuesday found that 90% of Israeli Jews think the IDF operation in Gaza is justified. The survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, indicated that most expected the war to continue.

The Palestinian Ministry of Healthy put the death toll Wednesday at 1,361; Israel has lost 58 soldiers and three civilians. Israeli officials blame Hamas for many of the civilian deaths, repeatedly accusing the militant group of shooting from within populated areas, including residential buildings and hospital. Netanyahu himself has charged Hamas with regularly using human shields, purposefully putting people in harm’s way. That means Israel’s soldiers and pilots have to either have to retreat from their targets or shoot anyway, knowing that civilians will be killed in the process.

Gunness counters that on three occasions, including one this week, rocket caches have been discovered in U.N. schools, but noted that these were empty, out-of-use structures undergoing maintenance — not buildings housing refugees.

“On these separate occasions, [rockets] were found in schools that have been closed for the summer and which were being inspected by UNRWA,” Gunness says. “We condemned the groups that put them there as a flagrant violation of the sanctity and neutrality of the U.N., we immediately notified all relevant parties, and we have never handed them over to Hamas.” The dispute over who hit the U.N. school continues, but the day’s grim images make one fact indisputable: there are no safe havens in Gaza.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME India

John Kerry Hopes for Warmer Welcome in India After Israel Fiasco

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about terms of a cease-fire in fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas on July 25, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about terms of a cease-fire in fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas on July 25, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

New Delhi has suggested that it's committed to an improved economic relationship with the U.S.

Correction: Appended, July 31.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to New Delhi on Wednesday in a bid to improve Washington’s relationship with India. He is undoubtedly hoping the visit will go well. Kerry, after all, has not had the best week.

On Friday, the Secretary of State left Egypt with his tail between his legs having failed to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Things got worse for him Monday after the cease-fire framework he helped draft was leaked to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which called it a “prize for terror.” Haaretz, which is normally considered left-leaning, claimed the former Democratic senator was like “an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”

This was hardly the reaction Kerry and his team expected from one of the U.S.’s staunchest allies. On Monday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We sent them a clearly labeled confidential draft of ideas… This draft… of ideas was based on the Egyptian proposal that they had supported from just weeks … just a couple of weeks before that.”

Luckily for Kerry, experts say he’s likely to receive a friendlier welcome when he arrives in India this week. “The Indians would like a good relationship with the U.S.,” says Ronald Granieri, executive director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of America and the West. “The U.S.-India relationship is fundamentally a very important one,”adds Xenia Wickett, project director of Chatham House’s U.S. Program. “There’s a recognition on both sides that this could be a very positive and strategic relationship.”

That’s not to say the ground is completely smooth ahead of Kerry’s India trip. In recent days, the Indian media has highlighted the December arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was accused of falsifying her housekeeper’s papers and underpaying her. Media outlets have claimed that this has soured relations with India, impeding Kerry’s visit.

Then there’s India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for failing to halt the 2002 Hindu-led riots which occurred when he was chief minister of Gujarat. The mobs killed 1,000 people, the majority of which were Muslims.

Wickett, who has just returned from India, is unconvinced that either of these events will hurt Kerry’s visit. “Within the new government… there is a much more rational sense of what’s important. This will not affect bilateral relations.” Modi, after all, was first denied a visa by the Bush administration. Khobragade was arrested during the former Indian administration.

But what about trade relations? The waters of U.S.-India relations were muddied at the ongoing World Trade Organization talks in Geneva, when member states had agreed to a reform of custom rules but India demanded that a deal on stockpiling, scheduled for 2017, be reached now.

That demand threatens to derail the anticipated reform, and has been met with criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Michael Punke, who said he was “extremely discouraged” by Indian negotiators’ intransigence.

These tensions can easily be put aside in favor of pursuing mutually beneficial relations, says Milan Vaishnav, associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The new government in India recognizes that if they were elected on a platform of getting the economy back on track, they need the U.S,” he says. “This is a relationship that has been gathering speed for the past decade.”

“If the Indian economy grows, the U.S. will do well and [any future] trade disputes will fade into the background,” he adds.

Strategically too, both sides need each other. If the U.S. and India can forge greater economic ties, it reduces the reliance that both countries have on the Chinese economy. “The U.S. would like a better relationship with India as they start to see China as a strategic rival,” comments Granieri.

All of that said, Kerry’s visit to New Delhi is unlikely to make great waves. Modi is due to visit the U.S. in September to meet with President Barack Obama and it is then, according to Granieri that any new initiatives would be announced. “Modi wouldn’t want to devalue the importance of his September visit,” he says.

Nevertheless Kerry is likely to be greeted with open arms when he disembarks from his spaceship on Wednesday. His job too, will be far easier than it was in Egypt. “It’s not a heavy lift [this time],” notes Vaishnav. “I think that it’s going to go pretty well, the trip is largely symbolic rather than substantive.” Surely that’s a welcome alternative to brokering peace in the Middle East.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Narendra Modi and Michael Punke. Modi, now Prime Minister of India, was the chief minister of Gujarat from October, 2001, to May, 2014, and Punke is the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

TIME politics

An Economic and Moral Case for Legalizing Cocaine and Heroin

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Drug user's stash Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Criminalization comes at a large cost--elevated prices, impurities, and the vagaries of black markets--and does marginal good for the few very abusive users.

We’ve come a long way since Reefer Madness. Over the past two decades, 16 states have de-criminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and 22 have legalized it for medical purposes. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington went further, legalizing marijuana under state law for recreational purposes. Public attitudes toward marijuana have also changed; in a November 2013 Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans supported marijuana legalization.

Yet amidst these cultural and political shifts, American attitudes and U.S. policy toward other drugs have remained static. No state has decriminalized, medicalized, or legalized cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. And a recent poll suggests only about 10 percent of Americans favor legalization of cocaine or heroin. Many who advocate marijuana legalization draw a sharp distinction between marijuana and “hard drugs.”

That’s understandable: Different drugs do carry different risks, and the potential for serious harm from marijuana is less than for cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. Marijuana, for example, appears incapable of causing a lethal overdose, but cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can kill if taken in excess or under the wrong circumstances.

But if the goal is to minimize harm – to people here and abroad– the right policy is to legalize all drugs, not just marijuana.

In fact, many legal goods cause serious harm, including death. In recent years, about 40 people per year have died from skiing or snowboarding accidents; almost 800 from bicycle accidents; several thousand from drowning in swimming pools; more than 20,000 per year from pharmaceuticals; more than 30,000 annually from auto accidents; and at least 38,000 from excessive alcohol use.

Few people want to ban these goods, mainly because while harmful when misused, they provide substantial benefit to most people in most circumstances.

The same condition holds for hard drugs. Media accounts focus on users who experience bad outcomes, since these are dramatic or newsworthy. Yet millions risk arrest, elevated prices, impurities, and the vagaries of black markets to purchase these goods, suggesting people do derive benefits from use.

That means even if prohibition could eliminate drug use, at no cost, it would probably do more harm than good. Numerous moderate and responsible drug users would be worse off, while only a few abusive users would be better off.

And prohibition does, in fact, have huge costs, regardless of how harmful drugs might be.

First, a few Economics 101 basics: Prohibiting a good does not eliminate the market for that good. Prohibition may shrink the market, by raising costs and therefore price, but even under strongly enforced prohibitions, a substantial black market emerges in which production and use continue. And black markets generate numerous unwanted side effects.

Black markets increase violence because buyers and sellers can’t resolve disputes with courts, lawyers, or arbitration, so they turn to guns instead. Black markets generate corruption, too, since participants have a greater incentive to bribe police, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards. They also inhibit quality control, which causes more accidental poisonings and overdoses.

The bottom line: Even if hard drugs carry greater health risks than marijuana, rationally, we can’t ban them without comparing the harm from prohibition against the harms from drugs themselves. What’s more, prohibition creates health risks that wouldn’t exist in a legal market. Because prohibition raises heroin prices, users have a greater incentive to inject because this offers a bigger bang for the buck. Plus, prohibition generates restrictions on the sale of clean needles (because this might “send the wrong message”). Many users therefore share contaminated needles, which transmit HIV, Hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. In 2010, 8 percent of new HIV cases in the United States were attributed to IV drug use.

Prohibition enforcement also encourages infringements on civil liberties, such as no-knock warrants (which have killed dozens of innocent bystanders) and racial profiling (which generates much higher arrest rates for blacks than whites despite similar drug use rates). It also costs a lot to enforce prohibition, and it means we can’t collect taxes on drugs; my estimates suggest U.S. governments could improve their budgets by at least $85 billion annually by legalizing – and taxing – all drugs. U.S. insistence that source countries outlaw drugs means increased violence and corruption there as well (think Columbia, Mexico, or Afghanistan).

It’s also critical to analyze whether prohibition actually reduces drug use; if the effects are small, then prohibition is virtually all cost and no benefit.

On that question, available evidence is far from ideal, but none of it suggests that prohibition has a substantial impact on drug use. States and countries that decriminalize or medicalize see little or no increase in drug use. And differences in enforcement across time or place bear little correlation with uses. This evidence does not bear directly on what would occur under full legalization, since that might allow advertising and more efficient, large-scale production. But data on cirrhosis from repeal of U.S. Alcohol Prohibition suggest only a modest increase in alcohol consumption.

To the extent prohibition does reduce drug use, the effect is likely smaller for hard drugs than for marijuana. That’s because the demands for cocaine and heroin appear less responsive to price. From this perspective, the case is even stronger for legalizing cocaine or heroin than marijuana; for hard drugs, prohibition mainly raises the price, which increases the resources devoted to the black market while having minimal impact on use.

But perhaps the best reason to legalize hard drugs is that people who wish to consume them have the same liberty to determine their own well-being as those who consume alcohol, or marijuana, or anything else. In a free society, the presumption must always be that individuals, not government, get to decide what is in their own best interest.

Jeffrey Miron is Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University and Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Studies at the Cato Institute.

TIME U.S.

Little Boy Battling Cancer Receives 30,000 Birthday Cards

He said all he wanted for his birthday were cards with his name on them -- and the world responded

Today, Danny Nickerson turns six. It’s been a tough year for him, as he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last fall and had to stop going to kindergarten, ABC News reports. The Boston area boy told his family that all he wanted for his birthday were cards with his name on them — and it looks like his wish has definitely been granted.

When people around the U.S. — and even around the world — heard about Danny’s story and his one birthday wish, they began to flood his family’s P.O. box. Danny’s mom told ABC News that she received messages from far as Switzerland, Germany, Australia, California, Alaska, Norway and Sweden, all asking how to send Danny a card or package.

The Nickerson family has been posting about the influx of mail on Facebook:

By the time Danny reached his birthday on July 25, he’d received more than 30,000 cards, Boston.com reports. In the meantime, the local post office is preparing for many more. If you want to send Danny a belated birthday card, here’s the address his family provided:

Danny Nickerson
PO Box 212
Foxboro, MA 02035

MONEY The Economy

WATCH: How Some U.S. Companies Are Dodging Taxes

Major American corporations are reincorporating overseas to avoid paying higher U.S. taxes.

TIME Environment

Satellites Show Major Southwest Groundwater Loss

A new report suggests that large swaths of groundwater in the Colorado River Basin have been depleted

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Groundwater losses from the Colorado River basin appear massive enough to challenge long-term water supplies for the seven states and parts of Mexico that it serves, according to a new study released Thursday that used NASA satellites.

Researchers from NASA and the University of California, Irvine say their study is the first to quantify how much groundwater people in the West are using during the region’s current drought.

Stephanie Castle, the study’s lead author and a water resource specialist at the University of California, Irvine, called the extent of the groundwater depletion “shocking.”

“We didn’t realize the magnitude of how much water we actually depleted” in the West, Castle said.

Since 2004, researchers said, the Colorado River basin — the largest in the Southwest — has lost 53 million acre feet, or 17 trillion gallons, of water. That’s enough to supply more than 50 million households for a year, or nearly fill Lake Mead — the nation’s largest water reservoir — twice.

Three-fourths of those losses were groundwater, the study found.

Unlike reservoirs and other above-ground water, groundwater sources can become so depleted that they may never refill, Castle said. For California and other western states, the groundwater depletion is drawing down the reserves that protect consumers, farmers and ecosystems in times of drought.

“What happens if it isn’t there?” Castle said during a phone interview. “That’s the scary part of this analysis.”

The NASA and University of California research used monthly gravity data to measure changes in water mass in the basin from December 2004 to November of last year, and used that data to track groundwater depletion.

“Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water-allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico, Jay Famiglietti, senior author on the study and senior water-cycle specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

The Colorado River basin supplies water to about 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in seven states — California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — as well as to people and farms in part of Mexico.

California, one of the nation’s largest agricultural producers, is three years into drought. While the state has curtailed use of surface water, the state lacks a statewide system for regulating — or even measuring — groundwater.

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