Norman Finkelstein’s July 30, 2014 appearance at Red Emmma’s bookstore in Baltimore was recently broadcast on C-SPAN. In front of a large and highly engaged audience Finkelstein proved himself adept at discussing the legal and moral implications of Israel’s ongoing slaughter in the Gaza Strip. As usual, he was highly informative, passionately articulate, and fully committed to achieving peace in Palestine – so long as it doesn’t require the abolition of a Jewish state.
But what if it does?
Finkelstein took several shots at BDS activists (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) and any notion of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which he denounced as supremely unrealistic.
He actually went further, suggesting it was a form of lunacy, lacking backing from even a single member state of the United Nations. A one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said, would be like proposing a resolution to U.S. immigration problems by eliminating the border with Mexico.
How appropriate is this analogy? Does the U.S. Constitution reserve citizenship to WASPs, as Israel does to Jews, thus excluding Mexicans by definition? Are Mexicans an actual or potential majority of a combined U.S.-Mexico, as Palestinians would be in Palestine if Palestinian exiles in Lebanon, Jordan, and around the world were allowed to come home? If Mexicans outnumbered the overwhelmingly white American middle class, and American citizenship were based on being a white Christian, would it really be reasonable to dismiss calls for a single-state democratic solution to this as a form of lunacy? This appears to be what Finkelstein is asking us to believe.
Finkelstein was particularly critical of BDS basing its campaign on international law, while at the same time dismissing the legitimacy of Israel, in spite of the fact that Israel is a legal member state of the United Nations. You can’t have it both ways, he said; either you favor international law in its entirety or you don’t really favor it.
Good point. So how does a two-state solution envision the implementation of the Palestinian right of return, as called for under international law? The answer is, it doesn’t. (Finkelstein side-stepped a question about how a two-state solution would be just to Palestinians, on the basis that the question was complicated, as it surely is, but so what? The entire issue is complicated.) No matter how borders are drawn to accommodate a two-state diplomatic settlement, many Palestinians with legal deeds to homes in pre-1948 Palestine will be permanently dispossessed, which outcome dissident professor Noam Chomsky (whose views on this topic parallel Finkelstein’s) says has to be accepted as “realistic,” since Israel will never allow complete implementation of the Palestinian right of return. Finkelstein, too, said that Israel would “never accept” a one-state solution, so it’s best to not even entertain the notion.
In other words, both Finkelstein and Chomsky take the position that what Israel refuses to accept should define the limits of a Middle East “peace.” The only problem with this stance is that Israeli leaders are certifiably insane even by the dismal standards of contemporary international politics, and cannot envision “peace” apart from total Israeli domination of the entire Middle East.
What these learned professors cannot seem to fathom is that a Jewish state, no matter how decent, humane, and democratic to Jews, is a massive obscenity to Palestinians on whose land the state is constructed, and until this fact becomes the basis for peace negotiations, there is no possibility of Middle East peace, now or ever.
In the biggest blow to Israeli propaganda, which claimed that Hamas broke the ceasefire, former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben Yair has said that “it was Israel who staged the alleged Hamas breach of the ceasefire in order to create the conditions for assassinating Muhammad Al-Daif, Commander-in-Chief of Hamas’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades.
The website of Makor Rishon newspaper said that Ben Yair, who also worked as a judge in the Israeli supreme court, tweeted on his twitter account the following: “There is no agreement and hostilities have been renewed, but who is the culprit? Hamas who wants an agreement with accomplishments or Israel who staged the breach of the ceasefire in order to justify the assassination of Muhammad Al-Daif?”
The significance of this testimony lies in the fact that Ben Yair, by virtue of his former position, had knowledge of the fine details of the secret Zionist intelligence work. He conducted investigations into the various aspects of the activities carried out by Israel’s Security Agency, the Shabak, which is responsible for intelligence about resistance leaders named for liquidation.
Ben Yair’s testimony is also significant because it comes in the wake of the adoption by Europe and the United States of America of the Israeli narrative as a result of which they held Hamas responsible for breaching the ceasefire.
It is worth mentioning that the Israeli government’s judicial advisor is also in charge of prosecution in the country.
Ben Yair is considered to be a serious person who is highly respectable within Israel, thanks to his revolutionary decisions during the time when he was in office. It is worth noting that Ha’aretz military commentator Amir Oren alluded in an article he published last Wednesday that there were indications that Israel had an interest in the collapse of the ceasefire so as to justify liquidating Al-Daif after receiving intelligence about his whereabouts.
Oren ruled out the possibility that Hamas was the one who violated the ceasefire, noting that what Israel was in need of was a context that justifies the assassination of Al-Daif after receiving valuable intelligence about his whereabouts.
DOHA – The Hamas Movement said it had had no idea at first who kidnapped and killed three Jewish settlers in the West Bank last June, but it described what happened to them as a natural and legitimate act against the illegitimate Israeli occupation.
This came in an explanatory statement released by the Movement on Saturday evening to clarify inaccurate and incomplete media and press interpretations of remarks made on Friday by head of its political bureau Khaled Mishaal in an interview conducted by Yahoo News.
“We did not have prior knowledge of this act which was done by a group of Hamas members, but we do know that any distressed people living under occupation and oppression could do anything to defend themselves,” the Hamas Movement explained.
“The soldiers and settlers in the West Bank are considered ‘assailants’ and live illegally on usurped and occupied Palestinian land, so the Palestinians have the right to resist them,” the Movement reiterated some of what Mishaal said in the interview.
The Movement also included in its statement some of the remarks that were made by Mishaal during the interview in Arabic. The Palestinian Information Center translated these remarks as follows:
“This group of Hamas members are in Al-Khalil and the Israeli investigations have unveiled lately that they had carried out this operation against those armed settlers who practiced, as thousands of other settlers do, their violence in all Palestinian areas. However, we, as the leadership of Hamas, did not know about that. This was known later on.”
“This is part of the [Palestinian] reaction to the occupation and settlement, because as you know the West Bank is an occupied territory according to the international law and the American standards, and the right to self-defense is guaranteed for all.”
“I am talking about something that has been announced as a result of the recent Israeli investigations. We in the political leadership of Hamas are not sure about that, but if that was true, it would be in the context of self-defense against Israeli occupiers whether they are soldiers or settlers. They are not civilians living in other places; they are living in Jerusalem and the West Bank which are occupied territories in accordance with the international law and the American standards.”
In a related context, member of Hamas’s political bureau Saleh Al-Aruri said that what he had previously stated about the kidnapping of three settlers in the West Bank was not a declaration of responsibility for the operation.
Aruri stated in a press release on Saturday that he had made his remarks in this regard based on the results of the recent Israeli investigations.
“The leadership of the Movement had no idea at the time about the group or the operation, but later it turned out that they were a group of Hamas fighters, and about this context was my talk,” the Hamas official explained.
Following a four-day long port blockade action in Oakland, California, in which activists delayed and blocked an Israeli ship from unloading its goods, Palestine supporters in Tacoma, Washington and Los Angeles, California have continued the action on Friday and Saturday by blocking two ships from the Israeli Zim line.
The activists are following a call from hundreds of Palestinian civil society groups to boycott Israeli goods, as part of a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions aimed at pressuring Israel through economic means to comply with its obligations under international law, and end its attacks and discrimination against the Palestinian people.
Protesters coordinated their actions with the start and stop times of the shifts of dockworkers, most of whom are unionized with the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse workers Union). They hoped that, by forming a picket line in front of the port entrances, they would be able to create a situation in which the unionized workers would be able to say that crossing the picket could endanger their safety. If that condition exists, the union workers are permitted to go home without carrying out the work of unloading the ship.
This happened on a number of the shifts during the four-day long blockade in Oakland and, apparently, occurred for several of the shifts at the port of Los Angeles and the Port of Tacoma as well. The ships only have a few days in which they can remain in port in order to keep their schedule, so, there is a good possibility that, because of the delays and ‘health and safety’ issues, many of the goods on the ships were not unloaded at all.
Among those participating in the port blockade in Tacoma, Washington are the parents of the late Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, at the age of 23, while standing in front of a Palestinian doctor’s home to try to stop the Israeli military from demolishing it.
Zim Integrated Shipping Services is an Israeli firm specializing in shipping Israeli products to ports around the world. It is the largest Israeli international shipping company. The company was founded in 1945 by the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut (General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel). When Israel was created in 1948, the government of Israel held a controlling share in the firm until 2008, when the controlling share was sold to the Israel Corporation.
The Israel Corporation was originally founded by the government of Israel, and was exempted from taxes for decades – it is now controlled by the Ofer Brothers.
One of the Oakland action organizers, Reem Assil, said, “It’s not just about the military offensive in Gaza. That sparked an international outrage, but we know this is nothing new. The ceasefire is still up in the air, and we want to make sure to use this point in our history to make sure this never happens again. Part of doing that is to isolate Israel.”
She said that activists in Oakland worked closely with union members to try to build support for their action, adding, “This is the kick-off of what we hope to be many. We hope this is the beginning of a continued coordinated strategy of working with local rank and file and educating union members.”
The exact products on board the Zim ships are unknown, but they are likely to include Sodastream, a do-it-yourself soda-making device which is manufactured in an Israeli settlement on illegally-seized Palestinian land; Ahava dead sea salts, which are seized from Palestinian land in violation of the Dead Sea Agreement, and Osem brand food products, some of which are manufactured and packaged in Israeli settlements on illegally-seized Palestinian land, in the West Bank.
Following the successful actions in Oakland, Tacoma and Los Angeles, Palestine supporters in other cities say they are preparing for potential blockades of Israeli ships from the Zim line in Seattle, Washington, Dublin, Ireland (August 29th), and Valencia, Spain (August 24th).
The Tel Aviv regime has bombed a 12-story residential building in the center of the beleaguered Gaza Strip, leaving several wounded.
The Zafer Tower, located in Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in southern Gaza City, was toppled by Israel’s warplanes on Saturday.
Two missiles hit the tower within seconds causing a massive fireball, which was followed by smoke billowing into the sky.
The strikes, which shook the neighboring high-rises in the area, brought down the entire tower with 44 apartments.
“People started shouting Allahu Akbar, and women and kids were screaming,” said, a resident, adding, “This is crazy. The state of Israel has resorted to madness. In less than a minute, 44 families have become displaced … They lost everything, their house, their money, their memories and their security.”
According to some reports, 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women.
The Israeli military said it targeted a room belonging to Palestinian resistance movement Hamas in the building.
Press TV’s correspondent in Gaza said the collateral damage was immense, adding, the residents of two nearby buildings had also been warned to evacuate for impending airstrikes.
Israeli warplanes and tanks have been pounding the blockaded enclave since early July, inflicting heavy losses on the Palestinian land.
Some 2,100 people, mostly civilians, have lost their lives and over 10,200 have been injured despite pressure from the international community on the Tel Aviv regime to end aggression against Palestinians.
Nearly 400,000 Palestinian children are in immediate need of psychological help due to “catastrophic and tragic impact” of the Israeli war, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has been launching retaliatory attacks against Israel.
Ahmad Abu Raida was only 16 when Israeli soldiers repeatedly used him as a human shield for five days in Khuza’a, southern Gaza.
Ramallah — Israeli soldiers repeatedly used Ahmad Abu Raida, 17, as a human shield for five days while he was held hostage during Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Ahmad, from Khuza’a, near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, was just 16 years old when he was taken from his family on July 23. He was forced at gunpoint to search for tunnels for five days, during which time he was interrogated, verbally and physically abused, and deprived of food and sleep. Ahmad told DCI-Palestine in a sworn testimony that Israeli soldiers attempted both to extract information from him regarding Hamas members, and recruit him as an informant, before releasing him on July 27.
“The Israeli military has consistently accused Hamas of using civilians – particularly children – as human shields, but this incident represents a clear case of their soldiers forcing a child to directly assist in military operations,” said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “Israeli officials make generalized accusations while Israeli soldiers engage in conduct that amounts to war crimes.”
Ahmad’s ordeal began on July 21, when Israeli tanks entered Khuza’a, a town where Israeli forces allegedly committed war crimes during the the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. After two days of hiding at home, Ahmad’s family and neighbors attempted to flee intense artillery fire. As they tried to leave, however, Israeli soldiers assembled civilians, separating young men from others.
Ahmad was singled out, detained with his hands tied behind his back, and kicked and insulted by a soldier. His family was released, but lost sight of him as they fled the area.
In the days that followed, despite not being associated with Hamas, Ahmad was interrogated about his political affiliation and the location of Hamas tunnels. He managed to sleep for just two hours on the first night, sitting in a chair with his hands tied behind him. Every day he was made to search for tunnels, including at one point digging under the afternoon sun.
Speaking to DCI-Palestine, Ahmad said, “[The Captain and the soldiers] were walking behind me, with their rifles pointed at me. “Get in and see if there are tunnels or not,” [the Captain] ordered me. They made me search all the rooms for tunnels. Whenever I told them there were no tunnels, they would take me out and search the room themselves.”
Ahmad details an almost constant stream of abuse and threats during his detention, including kicks and punches, whips with a wire, and threats of a sexual nature. When he was left alone in a civilian house for a period, he found some note paper and wrote a secret letter to his family, believing that he would be killed. On Sunday, July 27, he was finally released. Ahmad’s father confirmed that, for five days, the family believed that he was dead.
The use of civilians as human shields, which involves forcing civilians to directly assist in military operations or using them to shield a military object or troops from attack, is prohibited under international law. The practice is also prohibited under Israeli law based on a 2005 ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice.
Israel has repeatedly blamed the high civilian death toll in Gaza on Hamas, accusing them of using civilians as human shields. Human rights groups and journalists have found no evidence to support the claim. The mere presence of Palestinian armed group members among the civilian population does not rise to the standard under international law. … Full article
BETHLEHEM – The UN’s Palestine refugee agency UNRWA on Saturday criticized the Israeli military for publishing allegations — that have since been retracted — that Hamas militants fired a rocket from one of their schools in Gaza the day before.
In a statement, the organization called upon “Israeli military spokespersons and other official sources to ensure the accuracy of their facts before going public,” highlighting that the organization maintained the “highest standards of neutrality.”
The Israeli military said in a statement late Friday that a mortar that killed a four-year-old child in southern Israel was launched from an UNRWA school being used to shelter displaced Gazan families.
It added that it had “conveyed a severe message” to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority regarding Hamas’ supposed “exploitation of civilian and UN facilities as a human shield.”
Less than two hours later, however, the military retracted the claim, saying that in fact the mortar had been launched from a school under the administration of Hamas authorities, without offering evidence.
The UNRWA statement criticized the “false” reports spread throughout the Israeli media, adding: “The same media outlets that rushed to report the incident without seeking confirmation from UNRWA are required and called upon to also report the Israeli army retraction.”
Israeli forces have bombed UNRWA schools being used as shelters at least seven times in the last six weeks, killing dozens of Palestinians.
The international community has blasted Israel for the attacks, and the agency has repeatedly stressed that it has given the coordinates of all of its shelters — currently holding around 485,000 displaced people — to Israeli military authorities.
Israel regularly criticizes Hamas for using Palestinians as “human shields” when launching rockets, and Israel has killed hundreds of civilians in attacks targeting Hamas officials or fighters.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Center for Constitutional Rights, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Arab Lawyers Union, and American Association of Jurists (Asociacion Americana de Juristas) sent a letter on Friday to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to initiate an investigation of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by Israeli leaders and aided and abetted by U.S. officials in Gaza. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to hold individuals criminally accountable for the most serious of crimes.
“In light of the extreme gravity of the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, in particular the large number of civilian casualties and large scale destruction of civilian property, including schools, mosques and hospitals, and the ongoing incitement to genocide perpetrated by Israeli political figures and leaders, the [NLG] and endorsing organizations strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor to use its power under Article 15 of the Rome Statute to initiate a preliminary investigation” of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.
“[Under the Rome Statute, an] individual can be convicted of a war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity . . . if he or she ‘aids, abets or otherwise assists’ in the commission or attempted commission of the crime, ‘including providing the means for its commission’,” the letter reads.
“By transferring financial assistance, weapons and other military aid to Israel, members of the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have aided and abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza.”
The letter states that on July 20, in the midst of criminal behavior, Israel requested, and the U.S. Defense Department then authorized, the transfer to Israel of ammunition from the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition. And in August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved, and Obama signed, a $225 million payment for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
“Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any claim of security,” the organizations wrote, “but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians.” The letter quotes statements of Israeli officials advocating vengeance against “the entire Palestinian people “and “calling for the internment of Palestinians in concentration camps in Sinai and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”
Allegations of War Crimes
The letter lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting factual allegations for each crime:
-willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80 percent civilians)
-willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)
-unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)
-willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without charge or trial); -intentional attacks against civilians or civilian objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel (bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances, mosques)
-intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council [Goldstone] Report). Israel virtually flattened town of Khuza’a.
Allegations of Genocide
Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines “genocide” as the commission of any of the following acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; or (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.
The letter says, “In light of the fact that Palestinians in Gaza had no ability to flee for safety, it must be assumed the responsible Israeli officials knew that huge casualties and destruction of civilian property and infrastructure were certain during the massive bombardment by land, air and sea of the occupied Gaza Strip.”
The letter also lists “the repeatedly inciting public statements made by Israeli officials before and during the course of Operation Protective Edge and the history of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps and populations in Lebanon and in Gaza” as evidence that “Israeli officials may be implementing a plan to destroy the Palestinian population, at least in part.”
Allegations of Crimes against Humanity
Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines “crimes against humanity” as the commission of any of the following, when part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) Murder; (b) Persecution against a group or collectivity based on its political, racial, national, ethnic or religious character; or (c) The crime of apartheid (inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial group, with the intent to maintain that regime).
The letter states, “Israeli forces have killed, wounded, summarily executed and administratively detained Palestinians, Hamas forces and civilians alike. Israeli forces intentionally destroyed the infrastructure in Gaza.” It also says Israel keeps Palestinians caged in “the world’s largest open air prison,” and “controls all ingress and egress to Gaza, and limits … access to medicine and other essentials.”
Finally, the letter cites arbitrary arrest and administrative detention; expropriation of property; destruction of homes, crops and trees; separate areas and roads; segregated housing, legal and educational systems for Palestinians and Jews; the illegal barrier wall encroaching on Palestinian territory; hundreds of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; and denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland because they are not Jews.
The signatories to the letter conclude that “[t]he initiation of an investigation would send a clear message to all involved either in committing or in aiding and abetting of the aforementioned crimes that they stand to be held personally accountable for their actions.”
It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to the Rome Statute. But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her next book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in September 2014.
Was anyone surprised to hear that the International Criminal Court is under pressure not to investigate Israel’s war crimes in Gaza?
The British government wouldn’t even vote for the UN Human Rights Council’s proposal to launch an inquiry and, along with France, abstained. The US, as expected, voted against. Even Ireland, Germany and Italy abstained in an extraordinary show of collective political cowardice. The enemy within had revealed itself.
As The Guardian reported, “at stake is the future of the ICC itself, an experiment in international justice that occupies a fragile position with no superpower backing. Russia, China and India have refused to sign up to it. The US and Israel signed the accord in 2000 but later withdrew.
“Some international lawyers argue that by trying to duck an investigation, the ICC is not living up to the ideals expressed in the Rome statute that ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished’.”
Britain’s recently departed foreign secretary, William Hague, while still in the job proclaimed his commitment to smoking out war criminals, bringing them to justice and supporting the International Criminal Court in its investigations. “If you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide you will not be able to rest easily in your bed,” he said.
“There is no doubt where Britain stands: we are with those who say that international law is universal and that all nations are accountable to it…. We are a country that believes in and upholds the Responsibility to Protect…
“We pledge to recommit to the importance of fighting impunity for grave international crimes wherever they occur…. We will be a robust supporter of the International Criminal Court in its investigations.”
It was enough to make one warm just a little to the man.
Two years ago Hague delivered an important speech at the Hague, home of the International Criminal Court. He said all the right things, for example:
“The rule of law is critical to the preservation of the rights of individuals and the protection of the interests of all states.”
“You cannot have lasting peace without justice and accountability.”
“International laws and agreements are the only durable framework to address problems without borders.”
“Such agreements – if they are upheld – are a unifying force in a divided world.”
He spoke of a growing reliance on a rules-based international system. “We depend more and more on other countries abiding by international laws…. We need to strengthen the international awareness and observance of laws and rules….”
Some emerging powers, he said, didn’t agree with us about how to act when human rights are violated on a colossal scale, while others didn’t subscribe to the basic values and principles of human rights in the first place. He was actually talking about Syria although many in the audience must have had Israel in mind.
“The international community came together in an unprecedented way to address the crisis in Libya last year,” said Hague. “The Arab League, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union, NATO and the International Criminal Court all stepped forward and played their part to protect a civilian population.”
Funny how they never came together for crisis-torn Palestine these last 65 years.
‘Pledged to fight impunity for grave international crimes ‘wherever they occur’
Hague continued: “Our coalition Government is firmly of the view that leaders who are responsible for atrocities should be held to account…. Institutions of international justice are not foreign policy tools to be switched on and off at will.”
He said that referring leaders in Libya and Sudan to the ICC showed that not signing up to the Rome Statute was no guarantee for escaping accountability. “If you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide you will not be able to rest easily in your bed: the reach of international justice is long and patient…. There is no expiry date for these crimes….”
A year later a policy paper was issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, dated July 2013.
“It is a sad truth,” it said, ”that the biggest advances in international justice came about because of our revulsion at atrocities: the horror of the World Wars, the killing fields of Cambodia, the premeditated barbarity in Bosnia and Kosovo, the slaughter in Rwanda, and the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which were an unbearable affront to the conscience of humanity. Today, how much better it would be to look ahead and summon the political will to act to prevent conflict and expand human rights without needing to be shamed into doing so by the deaths and suffering of innocent people”.
It hammered home these ‘key messages’:
- Our support for international criminal justice and accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy.
- Our support for the ICC as a court of last resort and the importance of its role when national courts have been unwilling or unable to deliver justice is unswerving.
- It is our clear hope that through universality of the Rome Statute and the development of national jurisdictions that the ICC’s role will eventually become increasingly limited.
- Until then, the ICC will continue to play a vital role in achieving justice for the victims of the worst crimes.
Did Hague’s successor, the warmonger Philip Hammond (yes, he’s another who “voted strongly” for the Iraq war), read those words? Did his boss David Cameron, whose upbringing on the playing fields of Eton was supposed to have imbued him with the highest moral values and inoculated him with the most honourable intentions?
Where is that “unswerving” support for the ICC now? Why the about-face when Britain ought to be leading the charge against Israel’s genocidal tendencies?
We should remember that Hamas was democratically elected to govern the whole of occupied Palestine, not just Gaza, and that Israel and its Western friends conspired to prevent it. Hamas’s resistance is on behalf of all Palestinians. No matter how much some of us might disagree with Hamas’s methods they have very few defence options. No doubt they would love to replace their garden shed rockets with state-of-the-art guided missiles capable of the same accuracy as Israel’s, and to give Israeli citizens three minutes to evacuate and run for it.
Last night I attended a public meeting on the subject “How can Palestine be Free?” After a very good summary of the root-causes of the struggle no-one was able to put forward a game-changing plan of action. I ventured the opinion that the ICC remained the Great White Hope, even if it had been temporarily nobbled. It was up to civil society groups like the BDS movement and peace coalitions to make sure our shameless politicians at last feel the heat and are made to squirm until they clear their desk or change their ways.
First we must free ourselves from the clutches of the Enemy Within. Only then will Israel be brought to account and the Palestinian know peace and prosperity.
Salaita Deemed Excellent Teacher, UI Trustees Meet Again
I’m still on vacation and mostly staying offline but I wanted to do a quick update on the Salaita affair.
1. Tomorrow, August 22, the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again. The Executive Committee met on Monday, August 18. In an email, Phan Nguyen wrote to me, “According to the listing of BOT Executive Committee meetings on the website, there haven’t been two such meetings held within four days of each other” in quite some time, if ever. But where the Monday meeting agenda explicitly stated that employment and litigation matters would be discussed, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting specifies no specific topics for discussion. And where Monday’s meeting was listed a closed meeting, this meeting doesn’t say if it’s closed or not.
2. Going into Monday’s meeting, many of us thought something —a decision, a deal, something—was afoot. But according to this report in the local media, no decisions were made at the meeting.
“There are a number of issues being discussed,” President Bob Easter told The News-Gazette after the meeting, but trustees are “not at a place where I can say” if resolution is close. He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel. [...]
3. One of the issues that comes up frequently among the University of Illinois’s defenders is that Salaita’s tweets suggest he might create a hostile environment for students, that he’s not fit for the classroom. It’s a strange claim to make under any circumstance—how I am on Twitter bears little relationship to how I am in the classroom or in my interactions with students; all of us have different relationships with different people, and we act differently in different circumstances—but in Salaita’s case it’s especially strange because he actually has a demonstrated track record as a teacher that the University of Illinois could consult.
Salaita taught for eight years at Virginia Tech, and like most professors, he was evaluated by his students every semester. According to this report, these were the results:
The student evaluations for Steven Salaita are stunning.
In Fall 2009, 29 of 30 students responding rated Salaita’s “knowledge of subject” as “Excellent”. In the same course, 93 percent of students rated Professor Salaita’s “overall rating” as “excellent,” and 2 as “good.”
In the same term, another group of students gave Salaita nearly identical—though even better —marks: 29 of 30 rated him “excellent” for knowledge of subject, 30 of 30 graded him excellent for grading fairness, and 93 percent rated him “excellent” for overall rating, 1 good.
These numbers repeat consistently over all six of the courses Professor Salaita submitted for review. The lowest rating he received in the “excellent” category for “overall rating” was 86 percent. Salaita never received, in any of the six courses evaluated, a single rating of “poor” for any of ten categories of teaching reviewed. In his lone graduate seminar, he scored a perfect 100 percent rating of “excellence” in the category of “overall rating.”
But for purposes of our argument, it is especially important to note student evaluations of Professor Salaita in the category of “concern and respect” for students. Here is where students evaluate their professor for professional empathy, respect for diverse points of view, and sensitivity to student opinion and student lives.
In the six courses reviewed, Professor Salaita scored as follows in this category:
# of Students
30 Total: 28 Excellent 2 Good
30 Total: 30 out of 30 Excellent
10 Total: 10 out of 10 Excellent
29 Total: 28 Excellent 1 Good
28 Total: 28 out of 28 excellent
28 Total: 25 out of 28 excellent, 2 good, one No Response
In addition to these metrics, Professor Salaita submitted a peer review letter of his teaching by a Virginia Tech colleague in English. This colleague visited Salaita’s classes to provide the department an assessment of Salaita’s teaching.
The letter cites Salaita’s numerical excellence in student evaluations, but goes on to praise his teaching in terms that would be the envy of Professors everywhere:
While the numbers are impressive, the student comments bear out in detail how deserving Steven is of the high ratings. The students are acutely aware that they are privileged to be studying with a well-regarded scholar, who draws his knowledge from years of study and experience. Steven is perceived as being knowledgeable and accessible—he takes time to talk with students and to encourage them in preparing their writing assignments… When asked questions in class, Steve gives factual and thoughtful replies. It is clear to all that the teacher has mastery of his field.
Salaita’s colleague goes on to say:
The classes I visited focused on several very contemporary bodies of literature, most specifically Arab-American literature. These works are difficult to understand and appreciate fully without the help of a good guide who knows the turf. Professor Salaita is extremely well-informed on the history and current status of the many nations, political parties and religious sects of the Middle East. This subject matter is urgently important not only for specialists in international affairs, but for anyone seeking to better understand the violent and volatile contemporary world.
This record shows only one thing: that Steven Salaita is an outstanding classroom teacher.
4. The campaign on behalf of Salaita has gathered steam. Yesterday, philosopher David Blacker canceled his scheduled appearance at the prestigious CAS/MillerComm lecture series at the University of Illinois. In a letter to the university, he wrote:
I regret to inform you that I must cancel my CAS/MillerComm lecture at the University of Illinois scheduled for September 29….
I have decided I must honor the growing worldwide pledge of academics not to appear at U. of I. unless the Salaita matter is acceptably resolved….
… Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,the U. of I. has apparently chosen “enforced silence.” It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and non-negotiable issue of academic freedom.
My hope is that the U. of I. will relent and restore its good name. I would be delighted to reschedule my talk if and when this happens.
5. I haven’t got complete updates on the boycott campaign, but here are some new numbers (if I don’t have new numbers, I don’t list the petitions here; for a fuller list, go here):
Political Science: 169
Contingent academics: 210
Along with our other signatories on other petitions (for which I do not have updated numbers), we’ve got 2716 scholars committed to not engaging with the University of Illinois until Steven Salaita is reinstated.
A more general petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salaita has over 15,000 signatures.
Updated (9 pm)
The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been carefully observing the growing international academic boycott of our campus and weighing the potential impacts upon our Strategies for Action National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. After thoughtful deliberation, we have canceled the national conference.
This decision has not been easy.
We reached this decision after consulting with conference presenters and attendees, directors of other prison education programs, members of the higher ed in prison listserv, and with members of the Education Justice Project. We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.
Updated (10 pm)
Yet another scholar has pulled out from a distinguished lecture series at the University of Illinois. This time it’s Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.
Venezuelan ambassador to Egypt, Juan Antonio Hernandez, denounced on Wednesday that an Israeli aircraft attacked the Venezuelan humanitarian delegation in Rameh along the border post between Egypt and Palestine. No one was injured during the attack.
The F-16 airplane dropped a missile very close to the humanitarian site but did not explode. The ambassador confirmed that the missile fell approximately 50 to 70 meters from the site.
The Venezuelan humanitarian delegation delivered twelve tons of aid to the Palestinian people.
Hernandez referred to the action as “an act of intimidation, which is not a coincidence and it proves that Tel Aviv is trying to halt humanitarian aid, because right now Venezuela is an important beacon for the Palestinian people”.
El Universal reported that Roni Kaplan, the spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces, asserted that “there was no attack by the Israeli forces on the Egyptian side of Gaza. The air force has not attacked nor launched sound bombs to any humanitarian convoy on its way to Gaza from Egypt.”
The 1998 Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court’s founding charter, states that one of the critical ICC’s tasks is that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished.” However, under pressure from the US and the European Community, the ICC has avoided opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza. By doing so, the ICC is not living up to its mandate.
Lawyers for the Palestinians -whose civilian population has been most punished by the ongoing war in Gaza- state that the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has the legal authority to launch an investigation based on a Palestinian request in 2009. However, Bensouda claims that she needs a new Palestinian declaration to do it.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, who was the ICC prosecutor at the time of the Palestinian declaration, supports Bensouda’s position. However, The Guardian quotes a former official from the ICC prosecutor’s office stating, “They are trying to hide behind legal jargon to disguise what is a political decision, to rule out competence and not get involved.”
Moreno Ocampo took three years to decide on the status of the 2009 Palestinian request for an investigation, following the tragic events of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, called Cast Lead. During that time, both the US and Israel intensely pressured him not to allow an investigation, warning him that the future of the ICC was at stake.
According to legal experts, Palestinians were misled in 2009 into thinking that their request for a war crimes investigation would remain open pending confirmation of statehood. However, no investigation was launched after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted in November 2012 to grant Palestine the status of non-member observer state.
Although Bensouda initially appeared open to review the standing Palestinian request, in 2010 she issued a statement saying that the UNGA vote made no difference to the “legal validity” of the 2009 request. She has been accused of being under pressure from the US and its European allies (mainly France and the United Kingdom -the ICC’s main contributors to the ICC budget- to prevent the investigation.
The Rome Statute established four main international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Those crimes “shall not be subject to any statute of limitations.” Furthermore, under the Rome Statute, the ICC can only investigate and prosecute the four core international crimes in situations where states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves.
The court has jurisdiction over crimes only if they are carried out in the territory of a state party or if they are committed in the territory of a state party or if they are committed by a national of a state party. However, an exception to this rule is that the ICC may also have jurisdiction over crimes if its jurisdiction is authorized by the United Nations Security Council.
It is conceivable that Israel, to a certain extent Hamas and even the US could be tried under the Rome Statute. In the case of Israel, because it carried out actions that amount to war crimes, and in the case of the United States by lending Israel financial and military support. Palestinians argue that the small number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas couldn’t amount to a war crime.
On January 2013 Israel became the first country refusing to participate in a “universal periodic review” of the human rights records of the UN’s 193 member states conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups sharply criticized Israel for its refusal to participate stating that this conduct sets a “dangerous precedent… that could be followed by other states refusing to engage with the UN in order to avoid critical appraisals.” Although from a different context, these words could easily apply now to Israel and the US’s blocking of any investigation into the ongoing Gaza tragedy.