Abeer Afana, a 21-year-old Wayne State University student
Civil rights groups have criticized Israel for denying entry to a US university student of a Palestinian descent for a study-abroad program.
The Palestine Cultural Office, Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, National Lawyers Guild and other organizations held a news conference on Thursday to support Abeer Afana of the Detroit suburb of Novi.
The 21-year-old Afana was detained on May 16 at Tel Aviv airport and interrogated. She was then sent back to the US, the Associated Press reported.
Afana was sent home because her parents were from the Gaza Strip and she had once held a Palestinian passport.
Palestine Cultural Office Director Hasan Newash said Afana has the right to study abroad like other US citizens.
The US-born student was part of a month-long program designed to examine conflict and cooperation among Israelis and Palestinians.
“For me it was just like question after question about me, my family. No one gave me any alternatives. It was straight from interrogation to getting my bags,” Afana said.
The Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg reports that, this week, yet another federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release yet another Guantanamo detainee on the ground that there is no persuasive evidence to justify his detention. The latest detainee to win his habeas hearing, Mohammed Hassen, is a 27-year old Yemeni imprisoned by the U.S. without charges for 8 years, since he was 19 years old. He has “long claimed he was captured in Pakistan studying the Quran and had no ties to al Qaida,” and that “he had been unjustly rounded up in a March 2002 dragnet by Pakistani security forces in the city of Faisalabad that targeted Arabs.” Hassen is now the third consecutive detainee ordered freed who was rounded up in that same raid. The Obama DOJ opposed his petition even though the Bush administration had cleared him for release in 2007. He has now spent roughly 30% of his life in a cage at Guantanamo.
What’s most significant about this is that Hassen is now the 36th detainee who has won his habeas hearing since the Supreme Court in 2008 ruled they have the right to such hearings — out of 50 whose petitions have been heard. In other words, 72% of Guantanamo detainees who finally were able to obtain just minimal due process (which is what a habeas hearing is) — after years of being in a cage without charges — have been found by federal judges to be wrongfully detained. These are people who are part of what the U.S. Government continues to insist are “the worst of the worst” who remain, and whose release is being vehemently contested by the Obama DOJ.
The real disgrace here is that the U.S. Congress, in 2006, enacted the Military Commissions Act, which explicitly denied all Guantanamo detainees any rights to habeas review. The widely loved Lindsey Graham — along with the profoundly noble Joe Lieberman and John McCain — were the prime sponsors of that provision. Think about what that means, what the people who voted for that (including 12 Democratic Senators) tried to do: had the Supreme Court not struck down that provision by a 5-4 vote in Boumediene, all of these innocent people would continue to be denied any rights of judicial review, and would unjustly languish in prison indefinitely. The people who voted for the Military Commissions Act, and the 4 Supreme Court Justices who sought to uphold it, knowingly acted to deny scores of innocent prisoners any opportunity for judicial review. That’s as warped and as evil as it gets.
And despite knowing how many people we are innocently imprisoning, the Obama administration continues to demand the power to imprison people with no judicial review: by indefinitely detaining them without charges, by insisting that Bagram detainees captured outside Afghanistan have no habeas rights, by refusing to release any Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, including those whom the administration itself knows are being wrongfully detained. And in light of all this, who in their right mind would trust the President to assassinate fellow citizens based purely on his unchecked, unreviewed conclusion that the person is a Terrorist? It’s commonplace to label something a travesty of justice, but who can deny that knowingly imprisoning innocent people for years and years while scheming to deny them all judicial review is a disgrace of historic proportions?
UPDATE: One other point: the Carol Rosenberg who reported on the Hassen victory and is one of the very few reporters who pays substantial attention to all of the Guantanamo detainees who are winning their habeas cases, is the same Carol Rosenberg whom the Obama DOD just banned from covering military commissions at Guantanamo. Maybe The New York Times can do a big story tomorrow on how press freedoms are being curtailed in Pakistan — or how due process is being denied in Iran.
69 minors complained of being beaten, four minors reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 said they were threatened with sexual assault.
Most Palestinian children arrested by the Israel Defense Forces and police are intimidated, abused and maltreated in custody, according to the sworn testimonies of minors who were arrested last year. This happens both before and during interrogation, and several minors have been sexually assaulted.
The Palestinian branch of the non-governmental organization Defense for Children International has asked the United Nations to probe complaints of sexual assaults.
The organization has collected 100 detailed depositions from minors aged 12 to 17 who were arrested last year, immediately after their release. Most of the findings were not a surprise to DCI activists, apart from verbal or physical attacks of a sexual nature committed by soldiers.
Sixty-nine minors complained of being beaten by soldiers (slaps, kicks, sometimes blows with a rifle stock or club ). Nearly all – 97 percent, including children aged 12 to 15 – were held for hours with their hands cuffed, and 92 percent were blindfolded for long periods of time. Twenty-six percent said they were forced to remain in painful positions.
For example, one child said he was bound, blindfolded and placed on the floor of a jeep or vehicle on its way to the prison facility. About half the children said the soldiers who arrested them cursed and threatened them before the interrogation, to make them confess the charges. Or the children were urged to confess with false promises of immediate release.
The children were frequently told that the soldier who beat them was also the interrogator to whom they must confess. Most of them said they were held for many hours before receiving anything to drink or eat.
The DCI says the numerous sworn testimonies attest to a fixed, repeated pattern. It says these practices violate international law and the children’s rights.
In addition, causing pain and intimidation to extract a confession from a minor or make him incriminate others is defined as torture.
The relatively surprising findings in the depositions were the complaints of sexual abuse – verbal or physical. Minors usually have difficulty talking about this aspect of their arrest, and the issue came up only during the longer conversations DCI lawyers had with the children.
Four minors reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 said they were threatened with sexual assault. The threat was accompanied by physical violence. Last week, the DCI’s Palestinian branch sent the UN official who monitors torture 14 complaints by Palestinian prisoners aged 13 to 16 of sexual assault during detentions from January 2009 to April 2010.
The depositions sent to the UN report direct attacks, including squeezing boys’ testicles, pushing a blunt object (a club or rifle stock ) between the chair and a child’s buttocks, and repeated threats of “I’ll screw you if you don’t confess you threw stones.”
A 15-year-old arrested in September told the DCI that a soldier slapped him twice, squeezed his testicles and asked if he had thrown stones or a Molotov cocktail. The boy said he hadn’t thrown either, and the soldier shouted at him that he was a liar, beat him all over his body, grabbed his testicles again and squeezed. “I won’t let your balls go until you confess,” he said.
The boy felt such pain that he confessed to throwing stones, he reported.
The DCI recommends that the IDF and police interrogate minors only in the presence of a lawyer of their choice and a relative, and record the interrogation on video. These accepted procedures for interrogating children would reduce the risk of extorted confessions.
Palestinian prisoners, including minors, are allowed to see their lawyers only shortly before trial, sometimes only in the courtroom itself. This prevents them from talking in detail about their treatment in custody. Minors, 60 percent of whom are charged with stone-throwing, may expect a much shorter prison sentence than their detention time until the end of the trial.
Consequently, many minors confess, even when they deny the charges, and their lawyers sign plea deals with the prosecution to shorten their incarceration.
Asked about a failure to complain to the authorities about the sexual assault of minors, DCI legal adviser Khaled Kuzmar said many parents are not prepared to do so. “Very few people have confidence in the system that abuses them,” he said.
Some fear that the system or certain individuals would take revenge on them if they complain, he said.
However, the DCI is considering filing complaints along with Israeli human rights groups, if the parents agree.
The Israeli authorities arrest around 700 Palestinian minors aged 12 to 18 annually. Some 300 Palestinian minors are held in various Israeli prison facilities every month – either before or after they have been tried. Last month, 335 Palestinian minors, 32 of them aged 12 to 15, were imprisoned, mostly on suspicion of throwing stones.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office dismissed “claims of deliberate deviation from procedures for arresting and interrogating minors. Minors’ arrests are carried out in keeping with international law; the arrest of suspects under 16 years old in the West Bank requires a military lawyer’s approval …. Minors are brought before a judge within a relatively short period.”
The spokesman said complaints about violence should be raised during the trial, or in an orderly complaint to the Justice Ministry’s police investigation department or the Military Police.
Military sources told Haaretz that minors’ interrogation sessions are recorded, except for interrogations by the Shin Bet security service, which are exempt by law. As for a lawyer’s presence during a minor’s interrogation, the law does not require that even in Israel proper.
The April 20 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is a gift from British Petroleum that keeps on giving – 11 human lives lost, 2,940,000 gallons of oil daily a 2,500 square mile oil slick, underwater plumes ten miles across, softball size tar balls washing up on beaches of Louisiana, marshes and wildlife wiped out, the regional economy dealt a body blow and now the oil looping around Florida and up the Atlantic Coast where the Driller in Chief, Barack Obama, outdoing George W. Bush, recently approved new drilling.
Key to the disaster is the malfunction of several devices and procedures designed to prevent a blowout. Some simply malfunctioned, one perhaps because one its batteries was dead; others were not properly implemented or not implemented at all. Such fail-safe devices inevitably fail – even when they are put in place.
Days later on May 1 in Boston, my home town, an enormous metal collar, the latest in technology, connecting parts of a water pipeline blew out and washed away, leaving 2 million with no potable water for days. The collar has yet to be found and the reason for the failure remains a mystery – at least to the public. Of course aqua disasters are nothing new to Boston, with the Big Dig, another engineering marvel, leaking like a sieve, a malfunction less well known than the ceiling collapse which killed one hapless motorist.
In the interval between those two calamities on April 26, fell the anniversary of the nuclear reactor disaster in1986 in Chernobyl, now a ghost town as are neighboring villages in the “zone of alienation.” Here again fail-safe measures failed and the impact in terms of lives lost and to be lost numbers in the thousands and perhaps much higher. Of course such a “zone of alienation” will be radioactive for a long time to come. That, however, has not deterred the Obama administration from moving forward on nuclear power plants, going again where no Bush dared to go before.
In physics, there is a maxim attributed to Murray Gell-Mann, “Whatever is not forbidden is compulsory, “ which demands a stronger statement of Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it must.”
These events all came upon us in the weeks leading up to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference at the UN on May 3 where the United States wasted the opening trying to demonize Iran, a ploy which was foiled in the eyes of most of the world by the tough and wily Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who called for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, much to the horror of the United States and Israel.
On May 4, I contemplated all these events while sitting in on a national board meeting of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), US affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the recipient in 1985 of the Nobel Peace Prize, so recently besmirched by our hawkish Laureate in Chief. As we discussed the details of the world’s nuclear arsenals, I was reminded again of the 3000 nuclear warheads maintained by the U.S. and Russia in silos and on submarines on hair trigger alert, technically known as “Launch on Warning”. Should these weapons of mass destruction ever escape control, the result would make the worst of the dubious projections on Global Warming resemble a beach party. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of humans would die, and the entire species would be put at risk.
But of course we have fail-safe devices on these criminal instruments, don’t we? It should be clear that such devices are not subject to failure only on BP drilling platforms or on Boston water mains or Russian nuclear power plants. In fact such mechanisms of control have nearly failed at least five times since the end of the Cold War. For example on January 25, 1995 the U.S. launch of a weather satellite from Norway to study the Northern Lights was misinterpreted by Russian radar as the beginning of a nuclear attack on Russia. (Someone forgot to notify the Russians!) The vodka-soaked Boris Yeltsin was given five minutes to press his wobbly finger to the button. For whatever reason Yeltsin demurred. (Famously, Ronald Reagan was not worried about such matters because he believed that the missiles could be recalled, an ignorance as dangerous as any form of dipsomania.) And then there is the matter of the recent collision of French and British submarines armed with a likely total of more than 100 nuclear warheads on board.
It is certainly a crime of enormous proportions to keep humanity in this state of peril, and IPPNW and PSR call for its termination at once as an urgent first step in de-nuclearization. Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies the continuation of this hair-trigger nuclear standoff. Whatever can go wrong eventually must go wrong. It is compulsory.
It would be a mistake to believe that the general public is not interested in or frightened by nuclear Armageddon. Whenever the U.S. Empire wants to go after an inconvenient country, the specter of WMD, most notably nuclear weapons, is raised. Thus, for Iraq in 2003 and thus now for Iran. The possibility of taking these weapons off hair trigger alert and removing the great bulk of them is a task to which the public is open. It cannot be relegated to a time long after Obama has departed this earth, as he has suggested. The stakes are too high, and we have been lucky for a little too long.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com
Over at Balkinization, Law Professor Steve Vladeck has done a superb job highlighting a truly vile provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, which directs the Pentagon’s Inspector General to “conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers” who have represented Guantanamo detainees and then report back to Congress. That provision is the brainchild of GOP Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who has labeled efforts to represent detainees (specifically as part of the John Adams Project) a “treacherous enterprise” and smeared those lawyers as “disloyal.” Vladeck thoroughly documents how the lawyer conduct that is targeted by the mandated investigation is so broad that it could easily encompass every act of defending Guantanamo detainees, and thus, standing alone, could serve to intimidate and deter lawyers from vigorously representing those detainees in the future.
This is all an outgrowth of the incomparably repellent McCarthyite, “Al Qaeda 7″ campaign by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney to smear detainee lawyers as disloyal Terrorist lovers, and more broadly, of the endless fear-mongering over Terrorism that continues to grip the U.S. Government. The Weekly Standard has long been targeting the John Adams lawyers for doing their job (i.e., seeking the identity of CIA interrogators who tortured their clients), and that magazine now claims that it’s the CIA that is demanding an investigation into these lawyers (Look Forward, Not Backward is, as we’ve seen repeatedly, only available for torturers and criminal eavesdroppers). Reflecting this intensifying mood is the latest hysterical right-wing book, this one by anti-Islam obsessive (and media favorite) Andy McCarthy, who warns — in the title — that “Islam and the Left” are jointly engaged in a “Grand Jihad” to “Sabotage America” (the blurbs and summaries of his book are so inane and extreme that, despite how repulsive is this screed, it’s difficult to suppress one’s laughter when reading them; based on small book excerpts alone, Conor Friedersdorf documents how McCarthy’s book is suffused with lies). This is the McCarthyite fever swamp that is the genesis of this lawyer-targeted provision.
Writing at Matt Yglesias’ Center for American Progress blog, CAP’s Satyam Khanna says this:
The DOD budget bill is a pretty huge document; so I would hope this was furtively slipped in by some GOP staffer, to be removed shortly.
Yes, it sure would be nice to believe that the Democrats who control Congress — and who control the House Armed Services Committee which passed the bill containing this provision — somehow had nothing to do with its inclusion. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), that’s simply not the case, as The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage explains:
Democrats on the committee agreed to Mr. Miller’s proposal after several modifications. One change added the requirement of “reasonable suspicion” of wrongdoing before a lawyer would be investigated by the inspector general. Another enabled Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to halt such an inquiry if it would interfere with a related criminal investigation. Detainee lawyers argue that even with such modifications, Mr. Miller’s amendment is broad enough to give pause to all lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees — including the far larger numbers who have sought judicial hearings for prisoners who contend that they are not terrorists and are being held by mistake.
Those “modifications” are cosmetic at best, as Vladeck explains:
[T]he “reasonable suspicion” standard could itself force counsel to think twice before challenging extant DoD policies governing their interactions with their clients, thereby interfering with counsel’s ability zealously to represent their clients. The mere threat of investigation could easily force compliance with troubling policies limiting lawyer-client interaction that counsel might otherwise seek to challenge. Say what you will about the merits of these cases, but I had thought we’d long-since settled the appropriateness of allowing lawyers in these cases vigorously to represent their clients in court, consistent with the highest traditions of the profession.
This is yet another example of repellent, fear-based policies that could not be (or at least were not) enacted during the Bush years yet are finding new life under Democratic Party rule. Recall that Bush Pentagon official Cully Stimson was actually forced to apologize for suggesting that lawyers who represented Guantanamo detainees were engaged in disloyal and improper acts. Yet with the Democrats in control of Washington, a provision grounded in exactly that rotted premise has now been unanimously reported out of a major House Committee. There are still barriers it has to overcome in order to become law — including a House floor vote, a mark-up in the Senate, and then, if it makes it that far, the President’s signature — so it’s still possible it can be stopped. But for that to happen, Democrats are going to have to insist on its removal. It remains to be seen if they are willing to do that.
New York City – a place imagined as a center of liberality – is a mega-human rights violator, where 8:30pm curfews are enforced to make minority neighborhoods into “ghost towns.” In the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, police “are told to make arrests for incidents they have not seen and probably didn’t happen, all to meet quotas and clear the streets.”
There is a growing crime wave on the streets of New York City, a public menace that has assaulted the bodies and minds of nearly 3 million residents in the last six years. The source of the crime wave is the NYPD, without a doubt the worst violator of human rights in the United States – by volume – and arguably the most racist police force of any major city.
The ringleader of this crime wave is multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the once-Republican now independent mayor of New York since 2001 and – in quantitative terms – the nation’s worst human rights abuser. Every year since 2004, Mayor Bloomberg has demanded, and gotten, a bigger body count of detained New Yorkers: some 575,000 persons stopped-and frisked in 2009, nearly 90 percent of them Black and brown.
What civil libertarians fear will happen in Arizona under that state’s new, anti-immigrant laws, has been happening every day to Black and Latino residents of New York. Men, women and children are routinely stopped and often arrested right in front of their homes and while sitting on their stoops. Many have been stopped tens or scores of times by cops working under harsh quotas and under orders to clear the streets of everyone by 8:30 at night – a de facto and illegal curfew on the Black and the poor – in, of all places, New York, the City That Never Sleeps.
The horror stories are finally reaching the general public because of recordings made secretly and delivered to the Village Voice newspaper by a disgruntled cop. The tapes, recorded in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn over a 17-month period, reveal a lawless police department in which patrol cops are instructed to arrest people first and make up charges against them, later. Cops are told to make arrests for incidents they have not seen and probably didn’t happen, all to meet quotas and clear the streets. One particularly oppressive and profane supervisor summed it up for his men: “I want a ghost town…. The less people on the street, the easier our job will be.”
Another supervisor is heard saying, “They don’t own the block. We own the block. They might live here, but we own the block. We own the streets, here.”
Community members that complain about police abuse are vilified as “the bad guys.”
The police department operates like a hate machine, grooming officers to hate residents and giving residents every reason to hate the police. One young man interviewed by the Village Voice said he has been stopped 14 times just since New Years Day. “You can’t stand on the sidewalk and talk or sit on someone’s stoop,” he says.
The sheer intensity and duration of the six-year police assault on poor, minority neighborhoods, in a city where gentrification is a public policy priority, is reason to suspect that Mayor Bloomberg’s reign of terror is designed to drive out New York’s unwanted classes.
On tape, Bloomberg’s cops rant and rave that they’d like to “blow up” buildings and make streets into “ghost towns.” And then their boss can bring in a new population – and the cops can start acting like human beings, again.
Former legal adviser to the PLO says Israel “confuses” occupation with colonisation
While Israel withdrew its troops and colonies from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, it has failed to convince the international community that its occupation of the tiny strip of territory has ended. Israel has vowed to stop the flotilla by any means necessary, but under what legal pretext it aims to do so is unclear.
Israel’s flags, tanks and colonists have ended their permanent presence on the strip, but Israel continues to control Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters. The United Nations and the international community continue to consider the strip to be occupied by Israel, along with the West Bank and occupied Arab East Jerusalem. Why then does Israel insist that the occupation of Gaza has ended?
Canadian-Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, said Israel “confuses” occupation with colonisation. While the colonisation of Gaza, in the form of its military and settlement presence there, ended in 2005, its occupation continues, she said.
“After it pulled out [of Gaza], the Israeli government went to the Supreme Court to get an assessment as to whether Gaza was still occupied. The court determined that Gaza was no longer occupied,” she said.
On the contrary, she said, Israel’s occupation of Gaza has intensified, as it controls every aspect of life in Gaza, including the population registry and the issuance of identity documents. Israel however is expected to face a dilemma in legally justifying any attempt to bar the Freedom Flotilla. If Gaza was indeed liberated territory, any Israeli action in its territorial waters would be considered as having taken place in the waters of another entity.
Israel, however, has a loophole. It has designated Gaza as a “hostile entity” and has reserved the right to protect itself from it. Buttu said that that is where Israel “traps itself”.
“Territory is either occupied or it’s not. There’s no shade in between. It’s like being half-pregnant,” she said.
She stressed, however, that as an occupying power, its laws hold little credibility, saying that international law, and specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention, should be the first reference. If all else fails, Israel could cite the security provisions in the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation of 1993, under which it has certain rights in a “security perimeter”.
Buttu argued, however, that those security perimeters were clearly defined in Oslo, but violated by Israel. Not only does Israel extend its activities to further than the defined perimeter, she said, it has also extracted natural gas off Gaza’s coastline, “which belongs to Gaza”.
“The caveat under Oslo is that in 2001 Israel declared Oslo dead… So it’s not really an argument any longer. They can’t say we want to maintain the security aspects of Oslo but we’re going to keep building colonies [in the West Bank] at the same time,” she said.
Israeli disinformation cannot hide the siege of Gaza.
For over four years, Israel has subjected the civilian population of Gaza to an increasingly severe blockade, resulting in a man-made humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. Earlier this month, John Ging, the Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with humanitarian aid. This weekend, 9 civilian boats carrying 700 human rights workers from 40 countries and 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will attempt to do just that: break through the Israel’s illegal military blockade on the Gaza Strip in non-violent direct action. In response, the Israeli government has threatened to send out ‘half’ of its Naval forces to violently stop our flotilla, and they have engaged in a deceitful campaign of misinformation regarding our mission.
Israel claims that there is no ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Every international aid organization working in Gaza has documented this crisis in stark detail. Just released earlier this week, Amnesty International’s Annual Human Rights Report stated that Israeli’s siege on Gaza has “deepened the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages left four out of five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law.”
Israel claims that its blockade is directed simply at the Hamas government in Gaza, and is limited to so-called ’security’ items. Yet When U.S. Senator John Kerry visited Gaza last year, he was shocked to discover that the Israeli blockade included staple food items such as lentils, macaroni and tomato paste. Furthermore, Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, has documented numerous official Israeli government statements that the blockade is intended to put ‘pressure’ on Gaza’s population, and collective punishment of civilians is an illegal act under international law.
Israel claims that if we wish to send aid to Gaza, all we need do is go through ‘official channels,’ give the aid to them and they will deliver it. This statement is both ridiculous and offensive. Their blockade, their ‘official channels,’ is what is directly causing the humanitarian crisis in the first place.
According to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “Palestinians in Gaza are being actually ’starved to death,’ receiving fewer calories per day than people in the poorest parts of Africa. This is an atrocity that is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It is a crime… an abomination that this is allowed to go on. Tragically, the international community at large ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings.”
Israel claims that we refused to deliver a letter and package from POW Gilad Shalit’s father. This is a blatant lie. We were first contacted by lawyers representing Shalit’s family Wednesday evening, just hours before we were set to depart from Greece. Irish Senator Mark Daly (Kerry), one of 35 parliamentarians joining our flotilla, agreed to carry any letter and to attempt to deliver it to Shalit or, if that request was denied, deliver it to officials in the Hamas government. As of this writing, the lawyers have not responded to Sen. Daly, electing instead to attempt to smear us in the Israeli press. We have always called for the release of all political prisoners in this conflict, including the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, among them hundreds of child prisoners.
Most despicably of all, Israel claims that we are violating international law by sailing unarmed ships carrying humanitarian aid to a people desperately in need. These claims only demonstrate how degenerate the political discourse in Israel has become.
Despite its high profile pullout of illegal settlements and military presence from Gaza in August—September 2005, Israel maintains “effective control” over the Gaza Strip and therefore remains an occupying force with certain obligations. Among Israel’s most fundamental obligations as an occupying power is to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population. An occupying force has a duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population, as well as maintain hospitals and other medical services, “to the fullest extent of the means available to it” (G IV, arts. 55, 56). This includes protecting civilian hospitals, medical personnel, and the wounded and sick. In addition, a fundamental principle of International Humanitarian Law, as well as of the domestic laws of civilized nations, is that collective punishment against a civilian population is forbidden (G IV, art. 33).
Israel has grossly abused its authority as an occupying power, not only neglecting to provide for the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population, but instituting policies designed to collectively punish the Palestinians of Gaza. From fuel and electricity cuts that hinder the proper functioning of hospitals, to the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery through Israeli-controlled borders, Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip have turned Gaza into a man-made humanitarian disaster. The dire situation that currently exists in Gaza is therefore a result of deliberate policies by Israel designed to punish the people of Gaza. In order to address the calamitous conditions imposed upon the people, one must work to change the policies causing the crisis. The United Nations has referred to Israel’s near hermetic closure of Gaza as “collective punishment,” strictly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All nations signatory to the Convention have an obligation to ensure respect for its provisions.
Given the continuing and sustained failure of the international community to enforce its own laws and protect the people of Gaza, we strongly believe that we all, as citizens of the world, have a moral obligation to directly intervene in acts of nonviolent civil resistance to uphold international principles. Israeli threats and intimidation will not deter us. We will sail to Gaza again and again and again, until this siege is forever ended and the Palestinian people have free access to the world.
- Amnesty International, Annual Human Rights Report (26 May 2010); http://thereport.amnesty.org
- “The pasta, paper and hearing aids that could threaten Israeli security,” The Independent (2 March 2009)
- “Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and obfuscation,” Gisha (January 2010)
- “Carter calls Gaza blockade ‘a crime and atrocity,” Haaretz (17 April 2008), http://www.haaretz.com/news/carter-calls-gaza-blockade-a-crime-and-atrocity-1.244176
- “Gaza aid convoy refuses to deliver package to Gilad Shalit,” Haaretz (27 May 2010)
- “Comprehensive Report on Status of Palestinian Political Prisoners,” Sumoud (June 2004); Palestinian Children Political Prisoners, Addameer, http://www.addameer.org/detention/children.html
- Article 42 of the Hague Regulations stipulates, a “territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army,” and that the occupation extends “to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” Similarly, in the Hostage Case, the Nuremburg Tribunal held that, “the test for application of the legal regime of occupation is not whether the occupying power fails to exercise effective control over the territory, but whether it has the ability to exercise such power.” Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, like those in the West Bank, continue to be subject to Israeli control. For example, Israel controls Gaza’s air space, territorial waters, and all border crossings. Palestinians in Gaza require Israel’s consent to travel to and from Gaza, to take their goods to Palestinian and foreign markets, to acquire food and medicine, and to access water and electricity. Without Israel’s permission, the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot perform such basic functions of government as providing social, health, security and utility services, developing the Palestinian economy and allocating resources.
- John Holmes, Briefing to the U Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, 27 January 2009.
- Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949, Article I stating, “The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.” See also, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, I. C. J. Reports 2004, p. 136 at 138; http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/131/1671.pdf.
Military exercises conducted by the Israeli army have set fire to thousands of acres of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, destroying plant life in the region.
Firefighting teams put out the fire on more than 17,000 acres, Israeli news outlet Ynet reported on Thursday.
“Unfortunately this was a huge fire that caused a very big natural disaster, for animals as well as plants,” said Fire Department spokesman Yair Elkayam.
The five-day-long military maneuvers, dubbed Turning Point 4, began Sunday and were conducted in 68 cities and towns.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981. The move has never been recognized by the international community.
The Israeli maneuvers are also believed to target Lebanon’s economy as they were held during the tourism season for the Mediterranean country.