Surprise is the last thing that anyone ought to feel on hearing the news that the Obama administration “has shelved the planned prosecution,” in a trial by Military Commission, “of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged coordinator of the Oct. 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen,” as the Washington Post reported on Thursday, or that senior officials are “alarmed” by negative responses to the trial by Military Commission of Omar Khadr, as the New York Times reported on Friday.
The problem in both cases is that trials by Military Commission are inappropriate for any of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, who are either accused of terrorist activities, and should be tried as criminals in the federal court system, or are soldiers seized in connection with their support of the Taliban, wrongly imprisoned in an experimental prison established to permit coercive interrogations, instead of being held in a prisoner of war camp in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
The Commissions — dragged from the bowels of history in November 2001 by Dick Cheney — looked appropriate to the former Vice President, and to President George W. Bush, because they, like Guantánamo, appeared to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and would allow prisoners to be executed after largely perfunctory trials using evidence obtained through torture.
One reason for seeking to avoid court interference was that senior Bush administration officials were aware that their “War on Terror,” which equated al-Qaeda with the Taliban and failed to distinguish between terrorists and soldiers, regarding everyone who ended up in US custody as “enemy combatants” or “high-value detainees,” was legally unprecedented, and would be subjected to rigorous challenges.
To the Bush administration, such interference was unacceptable, but time and again they were proved wrong, as the Supreme Court found in favor of the prisoners, ruling that they had habeas corpus rights in June 2004, ruling that the Military Commissions violated both the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice in June 2006, and, after unconstitutional interventions by Congress, reiterating that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights in June 2008.
In the cases of the men held as part of the general population at Guantánamo, the Supreme Court’s rulings destroyed the Bush administration’s claim that, in the “new paradigm” of the “War on Terror,” men could be held forever without being able to ask a judge if there was any basis for their detention, if, as in many cases, they claimed that they had been seized by mistake. As has become apparent in the last two years, when the prisoners’ habeas petitions have proceeded to the District Court in Washington D.C., there are so many fundamental problems with the prisoners’ detention — primarily involving torture and unacceptable levels of hearsay masquerading as evidence — that in 38 out of 53 cases so far decided, the prisoners have won their petitions.
The Obama administration has failed to understand quite how ruinous these rulings are for the detention authority inherited from President Bush. Although senior officials have publicly repudiated Bush’s reliance on claims of seemingly unfettered power exercised as the Commander-in-Chief during wartime, Obama has continued to rely on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which, with another Supreme Court ruling from June 2004 (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld) allows the government to detain anyone it regards as having supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban or related forces.
This has led to horrendous problems, as I have reported at length, because, in the first instance, the majority of those who have lost their habeas petitions were nothing more than foot soldiers for the Taliban, who should have been held as prisoners of war, and secondly, because the President is also relying on the AUMF to justify his plan to continue holding 48 of the remaining 176 prisoners without charge or trial, on the basis that “prosecution is not feasible in either federal court or a military commission.”
The well-chronicled failures of the Military Commissions
This is a fundamental error that has still not been adequately addressed, but when it comes to the Military Commissions, the failures of the system have been far more thoroughly aired, and the Obama administration had no excuse for working with Congress to revive them last summer. In Congressional testimony at the time, a number of knowledgeable critics of the Commissions, including retired Adm. John Hutson and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former prosecutor, explained why reviving the Commissions was a bad idea, but the most compelling testimony was delivered by Lt. Col. David Frakt, the military defense attorney for two Guantánamo prisoners, Mohamed Jawad (released last August) and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (who received a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in October 2008, in which he refused to mount a defense).
In a comprehensive dissection of the failures of the original Military Commissions, Lt. Col. Frakt stated:
[T]he drafters [of the original military commission rules (PDF)] classified as “war crimes” conduct, such as conspiracy and terrorism crimes that are violations of regular criminal law but had never previously been recognized as covered by the laws of war, largely because the laws of war rightly apply to the narrow context of armed conflict.
They also created a number of “new” war crimes based on the alleged status of a person, rather than on conduct that actually violates the laws of war [PDF]. The most egregious examples of these were the invented crimes “Murder by an Unprivileged Belligerent” and “Destruction of Property by an Unprivileged Belligerent,” which appeared in the original commission’s list of offences. These provisions made killing US soldiers, destroying military property, or attempting to do so, a war crime. In other words, the US declared that it was a war crime to fight, regardless of whether the fighters comply with the rules of war.
Noticeably, Lt. Col. Frakt found little improvement in the revised version of the Commissions introduced by Congress in the fall of 2006, after the Supreme Court ruled that Cheney’s version was illegal. As he stated, Congress “retained the full list of war crimes (again with minor variations), including the invented ones, and even added new ones, such as the flexible catch-all ‘material support to terrorism.’” He added:
If one were to review the charges brought against all of the approximately 25 defendants charged [under President Bush] in the military commissions, as I have, one would conclude that 99% of them do not involve traditionally recognized war crimes. Rather, virtually all the defendants are charged with non-war crimes, primarily criminal conspiracy, terrorism and material support to terrorism, all of which are properly crimes under federal criminal law, but not the laws of war.
Alarmingly, senior officials in the Obama administration recognized that providing material support to terrorism should not be included in the revised version of the Military Commissions that was approved last summer. In Congressional testimony, Assistant Attorney General David Kris conceded (PDF) that “there is a significant risk that appellate courts will ultimately conclude that material support for terrorism is not a traditional law of war offense, thereby reversing hard-won convictions and leading to questions about the system’s legitimacy,” and the Pentagon’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson also accepted (PDF) that “material support is not a viable offense to be charged before a military commission because it is not a law of war offense.”
However, Congress chose to ignore even the government’s appeals, and on November 13 last year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five men previously put forward for trial by Military Commission under President Bush — Omar Khadr, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ibrahim al-Qosi, Ahmed al-Darbi and Noor Uthman Muhammed — would face what was the United States’ second or third attempt to secure convictions through trials by Military Commission.
Reprehensible excuses for proceeding with the trial of Omar Khadr
As a result, it was somewhat disingenuous of the administration to bleat to the New York Times, via anonymous officials, that the first full trial under the revamped system, that of Omar Khadr, was “undermining their broader effort to showcase reforms that they say have made military commissions fair and just.”
International and domestic concerns about proposals to put Khadr forward for a war crimes trial have been voiced since he was first put forward for a trial in November 2005, primarily because the Canadian citizen was just 15 when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, but also because of widespread recognition that a line had been crossed by the government in claiming that his alleged crime — throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier — was a war crime.
Given that the Obama administration chose to ignore both of these criticisms in proceeding with Khadr’s trial, the complaint aired to the Times by anonymous officials — that “No one intended the Khadr case to be the first trial under the revamped system,” as Charlie Savage described it — is frankly reprehensible, as it involves the explicit recognition that the entire trial is unacceptable, and would only be acceptable if it could have been hidden behind the coat tails of a more prominent case — one, for example, that involved recognizable allegations of terrorism.
Attempts to mitigate this uncomfortable truth were also made by the officials who spoke to the Times, but largely without success. The officials explained that they were unsure if offering a new plea deal to Khadr to stop his trial from taking place would constitute “unlawful command influence,” which is prohibited in the Commissions’ rules. Khadr had previously been offered a plea deal, which he refused, and as Charlie Savage explained, “Administration officials have discussed whether senior civilian leaders at the Pentagon or elsewhere could get involved, helping to revive plea negotiations,” or even whether they could direct Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald (the Commissions’ convening authority, who is responsible for approving all charges and sentences) to “make a more attractive offer.”
What worried them, they explained, was the prohibition on “unlawful command influence” — defined as any attempt “to coerce, or, by any unauthorized means, influence” the actions of prosecutors or the convening authority. Charlie Savage added, “Officials are debating what that means,” but this purported reticence was disputed by Col. Morris Davis, the Commissions’ former chief prosecutor, who suggested the provision to lawmakers in 2006. Col. Davis resigned in October 2007 after he was placed in chain of command under the Pentagon’s General Counsel William J. Haynes II, who aimed to use information derived through the use of torture, against Col. Davis’ own refusal to countenance the use of such material, and he told the Times that he “believe[d] the provision was not meant to bar pressure to sweeten a plea offer,” telling Charlie Savage, “It’s clearly not ‘command influence’ to do something favorable to the accused. The whole concept was the opposite of that.”
Paralysis in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
Ironically, at the same time that these poor excuses were being made in Omar Khadr’s case, the Washington Post revealed that, in the case of a genuine terrorist suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, “no charges are either pending or contemplated with respect to al-Nashiri in the near future.” As the Post explained, “The statement, tucked into a motion to dismiss a petition by Nashiri’s attorneys, suggests that the prospect of further military trials for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has all but ground to a halt.”
Although the Pentagon disputed the statement, claiming that “Prosecutors in the Office of Military Commissions are actively investigating the case against Mr. al-Nashiri and are developing charges against him,” and the Post spoke to military officials who said that “a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready go to trial for some time,” one military official seemed to cut through this waffle by stating, “It’s politics at this point.” As the Post described it, “He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantánamo Bay.”
This was a reference to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other “high-value detainees” accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, whose proposed federal court trials were announced on the same day last November that Eric Holder announced the resumption of trials by Military Commission against Omar Khadr, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and the three others mentioned above. At the time, critical attention focused on the three-tier justice system that Holder’s announcement enshrined, with federal court trials for some prisoners, trials by Military Commission for others, and, as the administration also conceded, indefinite detention without charge or trial for others.
This was rightly lambasted as a travesty of justice, which involved different processes depending on what the administration had gauged to be its level of potential success, and it was not offset by Eric Holder’s claim that, in al-Nashiri’s case, for, example, “With regard to the Cole bombing, that was an attack on a United States warship, and that, I think, is appropriately placed into the military commission setting.” As last week’s Post article made clear, it was more probable that a Military Commission was chosen for al-Nashiri because the prosecution was “expected to rely heavily on statements made to the FBI by two Yemenis who allegedly implicated Nashiri,” and who, unlike in federal court, would not be required to testify, and also, of course, because, as one of three “high-value detainees” subjected to waterboarding — and threatened with a gun and a power drill — al-Nashiri’s own statements would probably be inadmissible as evidence.
Ten months on, however, with federal court trials for the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators still in doubt, after a successful backlash that has thrown the administration into paralysis, and with the latest news about the Commissions indicating that they too have “all but ground to a halt,” it is, sadly, clear that the word “paralysis” now defines the Obama administration’s overall response to Guantánamo.
Of the remaining 176 prisoners, only 35, at present, are destined for new homes, after being cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the rest — 58 Yemenis also cleared for release, but still held because of President Obama’s January moratorium on releasing any more Yemenis, the 35 prisoners supposedly scheduled to face trials, and the 48 designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial — are stuck in a limbo of political paralysis that is unlikely to be lifted before the mid-term elections, and that may be impossible to remedy after the elections if the balance of power in Congress shifts away from the Democrats.
Political maneuvering and pragmatism has played a major role in this, as has unprincipled scaremongering from Republicans and members of Obama’s own party, but the result — no trials, few releases and that dominant mood of paralysis — is a poor reflection on the administration, on lawmakers of both parties, and of America in general, because the failure to bring genuine terrorist suspects to justice, to release prisoners who do not constitute a threat, and to close Guantánamo once and for all is nothing to celebrate.
Is Israel a strategic asset or liability for the United States? Interesting question. We must thank the Nixon Center for asking it. In my view, there are many reasons for Americans to wish the Jewish state well. Under current circumstances, strategic advantage for the United States is not one of them. If we were to reverse the question, however, and to ask whether the United States is a strategic asset or liability for Israel, there would be no doubt about the answer.
American taxpayers fund between 20 and 25 percent of Israel’s defense budget (depending on how you calculate this). Twenty-six percent of the $3 billion in military aid we grant to the Jewish state each year is spent in Israel on Israeli defense products. Uniquely, Israeli companies are treated like American companies for purposes of U.S. defense procurement. Thanks to congressional earmarks, we also often pay half the costs of special Israeli research and development projects, even when – as in the case of defense against very short-range unguided missiles — the technology being developed is essentially irrelevant to our own military requirements. In short, in many ways, American taxpayers fund jobs in Israel’s military industries that could have gone to our own workers and companies. Meanwhile, Israel gets pretty much whatever it wants in terms of our top-of-the-line weapons systems, and we pick up the tab.
Identifiable U.S. government subsidies to Israel total over $140 billion since 1949. This makes Israel by far the largest recipient of American giveaways since World War II. The total would be much higher if aid to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and support for Palestinians in refugee camps and the occupied territories were included. These programs have complex purposes but are justified in large measure in terms of their contribution to the security of the Jewish state.
Per capita income in Israel is now about $37,000 — on a par with the UK. Israel is nonetheless the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, accounting for well over a fifth of it. Annual U.S. government transfers run at well over $500 per Israeli, not counting the costs of tax breaks for private donations and loans that aren’t available to any other foreign country.
These military and economic benefits are not the end of the story. The American government also works hard to shield Israel from the international political and legal consequences of its policies and actions in the occupied territories, against its neighbors, or – most recently – on the high seas. The nearly 40 vetoes the United States has cast to protect Israel in the UN Security Council are the tip of iceberg. We have blocked a vastly larger number of potentially damaging reactions to Israeli behavior by the international community. The political costs to the United States internationally of having to spend our political capital in this way are huge.
Where Israel has no diplomatic relations, U.S. diplomats routinely make its case for it. As I know from personal experience (having been thanked by the then Government of Israel for my successful efforts on Israel’s behalf in Africa), the U.S. government has been a consistent promoter and often the funder of various forms of Israeli programs of cooperation with other countries. It matters also that America – along with a very few other countries – has remained morally committed to the Jewish experiment with a state in the Middle East. Many more Jews live in America than in Israel. Resolute American support should be an important offset to the disquiet about current trends that has led over 20 percent of Israelis to emigrate, many of them to the United States, where Jews enjoy unprecedented security and prosperity.
Clearly, Israel gets a great deal from us. Yet it’s pretty much taboo in the United States to ask what’s in it for Americans. I can’t imagine why. Still, the question I’ve been asked to address today is just that: what’s in it — and not in it — for us to do all these things for Israel.
We need to begin by recognizing that our relationship with Israel has never been driven by strategic reasoning. It began with President Truman overruling his strategic and military advisers in deference to personal sentiment and political expediency. We had an arms embargo on Israel until Lyndon Johnson dropped it in 1964 in explicit return for Jewish financial support for his campaign against Barry Goldwater. In 1973, for reasons peculiar to the Cold War, we had to come to the rescue of Israel as it battled Egypt. The resulting Arab oil embargo cost us dearly. And then there’s all the time we’ve put into the perpetually ineffectual and now long defunct “peace process.”
Still the US-Israel relationship has had strategic consequences… Some substantial portion of the many lives and the trillions of dollars we have so far expended in our escalating conflict with the Islamic world must be apportioned to the costs of our relationship with Israel.
It’s useful to recall what we generally expect allies and strategic partners to do for us. In Europe, Asia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, they provide bases and support the projection of American power beyond their borders. They join us on the battlefield in places like Kuwait and Afghanistan or underwrite the costs of our military operations. They help recruit others to our coalitions. They coordinate their foreign aid with ours. Many defray the costs of our use of their facilities with “host nation support” that reduces the costs of our military operations from and through their territory. They store weapons for our troops’, rather than their own troops’ use. They pay cash for the weapons we transfer to them.
Israel does none of these things and shows no interest in doing them. Perhaps it can’t. It is so estranged from everyone else in the Middle East that no neighboring country will accept flight plans that originate in or transit it. Israel is therefore useless in terms of support for American power projection. It has no allies other than us. It has developed no friends. Israeli participation in our military operations would preclude the cooperation of many others. Meanwhile, Israel has become accustomed to living on the American military dole. The notion that Israeli taxpayers might help defray the expense of U.S. military or foreign assistance operations, even those undertaken at Israel’s behest, would be greeted with astonishment in Israel and incredulity on Capitol Hill.
Military aid to Israel is sometimes justified by the notion of Israel as a test bed for new weapons systems and operational concepts. But no one can identify a program of military R & D in Israel that was initially proposed y our men and women in uniform. All originated with Israel or members of Congress acting on its behalf. Moreover, what Israel makes it sells not just to the United States but to China, India, and other major arms markets. It feels no obligation to take U.S. interests into account when it transfers weapons and technology to third countries and does so only under duress.
Meanwhile, it’s been decades since Israel’s air force faced another in the air. It has come to specialize in bombing civilian infrastructure and militias with no air defenses. There is not much for the U.S. Air Force to learn from that. Similarly, the Israeli navy confronts no real naval threat. Its experience in interdicting infiltrators, fishermen, and humanitarian aid flotillas is not a model for the U.S. Navy to study. Israel’s army, however, has had lessons to impart. Now in its fifth decade of occupation duty, it has developed techniques of pacification, interrogation, assassination, and drone attack that inspired U.S. operations in Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Somalia, Yemen, and Waziristan. Recently, Israel has begun to deploy various forms of remote-controlled robotic guns. These enable operatives at far-away video screens summarily to execute anyone they view as suspicious. Such risk-free means of culling hostile populations could conceivably come in handy in some future American military operation, but I hope not. I have a lot of trouble squaring the philosophy they embody with the values Americans traditionally aspired to exemplify.
It is sometimes said that, to its credit, Israel does not ask the United States to fight its battles for it; it just wants the money and weapons to fight them on its own. Leave aside the question of whether Israel’s battles are or should also be America’s. It is no longer true that Israel does not ask us to fight for it. The fact that prominent American apologists for Israel were the most energetic promoters of the U.S. invasion of Iraq does not, of course, prove that Israel was the instigator of that grievous misadventure. But the very same people are now urging an American military assault on Iran explicitly to protect Israel and to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. Their advocacy is fully coordinated with the Government of Israel. No one in the region wants a nuclear-armed Iran, but Israel is the only country pressing Americans to go to war over this.
Finally, the need to protect Israel from mounting international indignation about its behavior continues to do grave damage to our global and regional standing. It has severely impaired our ties with the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. These costs to our international influence, credibility, and leadership are, I think, far more serious than the economic and other burdens of the relationship.
Against this background, it’s remarkable that something as fatuous as the notion of Israel as a strategic asset could have become the unchallengeable conventional wisdom in the United States. Perhaps it’s just that as someone once said: “people … will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one.” Be that as it may, the United States and Israel have a lot invested in our relationship. Basing our cooperation on a thesis and narratives that will not withstand scrutiny is dangerous. It is especially risky in the context of current fiscal pressures in the United States. These seem certain soon to force major revisions of both current levels of American defense spending and global strategy, in the Middle East as well as elsewhere. They also place federally-funded programs in Israel in direct competition with similar programs here at home. To flourish over the long term, Israel’s relations with the United States need to be grounded in reality, not myth, and in peace, not war.
World Health Organization (WHO) – Ahmed is a medical student. He cannot continue his training at an East Jerusalem hospital because his permit was confiscated. He recounts how the Israeli secret service asked him to work for them if he wanted his permit back.
“As part of my studies at Al Quds medical school in Abu Dis, for the last two years I’ve been doing on-the-job training at an East Jerusalem hospital. Being a Palestinian from the West Bank, I need a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem. I’ve never had any problems getting one before. This spring, however, a soldier at the check¬point confiscated my permit. I was told that I had to see the Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, if I wanted to get it back.
When I finally got an appointment a few weeks later, the Shin Bet officer told me: “If you help us, we will help you.” They asked me to inform them about my fellow students’ activities, in particular any travel abroad. In other words, I was asked to spy if I wanted to study. I refused and, as a result, I didn’t get my permit back.
Although I can do my training in Hebron, for example, there are huge repercussions on the quality of my studies. The East Jerusalem hospital where I’ve been training has half a dozen professors specialized in my field. In Hebron, there is only one. There is also much less interaction bet-ween students in the West Bank because there are far fewer students per hospital.
When I finish my undergraduate studies at Al Quds medical school in a bit over a year, I want to go to the United States for my specialization. My diploma is recognized in the US, UK, the Arab world and many other countries. Israel, however, refuses to recognize it.”
150-160 students in the fourth, fifth and sixth year of studies at Al Quds medical school in Abu Dis are eligible for training at East Jerusalem hospitals. 90 percent come from the West Bank and need permits to attend specialized, medical training in pediatrics, neonatology, surgical interventions, internal medicine, cardiology, etc. On the whole, the same high-quality, specialized training is not available in the hospitals elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Therefore, access to East Jerusalem for medical students is critically important, especially if the quality of medical care in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is to be ensured in the long term.
In June 2010, Al Quds medical school reported that 11 students could not continue their training in East Jerusalem because the Israeli authorities had refused to renew their permits. Physicians for Human Rights Israel is helping these students to bring their case to court in order to create a precedent with regard to permits for medical students from the West Bank.
Ahmed’s name has been changed and some of the details of his story omitted in order to protect his identity.
This afternoon news began to break about the killing of 4 Israeli settlers near the Palestinian town of Hebron. Surely, the killing of any unarmed civilians, whether their presence in a particular area is legal or not, is condemnable and many have been swift to condemn today’s act of violence and put it into perspective as an attempt to derail peace talks (as if these talks needed any help to fail).
Within minutes many major news outlets began reporting about this event. Here is Isabel Kershner’s coverage in the NYT:
Four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, were killed when their car was fired on in the West Bank on Tuesday evening, in the deadliest attack on Israelis in more than two years.
The killings appeared to be an effort by Palestinian militants to upset peace talks due to start in Washington on Thursday. Hamas claimed responsibility for the shootings, the Associated Press reported.
In July, Israeli security officials said they had arrested several members of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group, who were responsible for the fatal shooting of an Israeli police officer south of Hebron in June.
In March 2008, a Palestinian gunman from East Jerusalem killed eight students, mostly teenagers, at a religious seminary in the city.
As I am in the midst of analyzing data on settler violence it struck me how much this coverage chose to ignore about the dynamics of violence around settlements in the West Bank when it mentioned only Palestinian acts of violence going back to 2008 but didn’t waste a word on mentioning settler violence. Settler violence, often perpetrated with the knowledge, or assistance of the IDF, is just as likely to jeopardize the ‘peace process’ yet we rarely hear of it.
A quick query of the data, covering over 1000+ events, tells us the NYT story skipped over a lot, including over 260 acts of settler violence in the Hebron governorate alone since 2009. These include 56 instances of assault, 53 instances of stone throwing, 28 attacks on houses and attempted house seizures, 11 acts of arson and many more.
These acts of settler violence, again, in this one part of the West Bank in only the last 20 months has left 1 dead and 93 injured among Palestinians as well as incalculable amounts of property damage (the totals for the entire West Bank are much higher). Attacks perpetrated against Palestinians over this time period in the Hebron governorate were launched from the settlements of Adorah, Bat Ayin, Bat Hadassah, Hagai, Harsi, Karmei Tzur, Karmiel, Kfar Etzion, Kiryat Arba, Maon, Mount Joher, Negohot, Shani, Shima and Sosia.
This is the kind of information that Kershner forgot to mention, but it is also the kind of information that will be discussed in great detail, looking at all parts of the West Bank and trends over time, at our upcoming Palestine Center briefing on settler violence. If you can’t make to it DC, you can watch the live streaming webcast of the event at our website. Maybe Kershner can follow the live stream from Jerusalem and give settler violence the attention it deserves.
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner
The BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights recently published Rights in Principle — Rights in Practice, which examines a rights-based approach to crafting durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof interviews BADIL director Ingrid Jaradat Gassner on the organization’s work and the new book.
Adri Nieuwhof: Can you introduce BADIL and yourself?
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner: BADIL is a Palestinian nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Bethlehem, and was established in 1998. Our mandate is to support the Palestinian people, in particular displaced people, to defend their rights, in particular their right of return. I am a founding member of BADIL and I have been its director since the beginning.
AN: What was the idea behind the foundation of BADIL?
IJG: The initiative came to a large extent from a series of popular conferences in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip as well as a conference of Palestinians in Israel in the mid-1990s, following the Oslo peace process, which in a very clear way sidelined Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. It was unclear how the peace process and the negotiations would deal with this. A strong campaign was necessary so that Palestinian negotiators would take a firm stand against a peace deal that would violate the rights of the refugees. One of the recommendations of the conferences was that there should be a Palestinian civil organization that specializes in this, because this did not exist. There was a group of people working in NGOs who were familiar with the topic and they participated in setting up BADIL, as well as some of the organizers of the popular conferences, among which were many members of the refugee communities.
AN: Can you give a brief overview of Rights in Principle – Rights in Practice?
IJG: It is a special book for BADIL, because it sums up several years of our work. In the first years we had to try to get involved in the peace process, because it could have a huge impact on the position of refugees. We had to engage in this existing peace effort. One way was to work with community organizations, to make sure the voice of the refugees was heard and respected by the Palestinian negotiators. We made a quite sustained effort to engage our international activities on the rights of Palestinians more in the context of the negotiations. Slowly we started to realize that we were the black sheep in these forums — always making the claims on the right of return and restitution for Palestinian refugees. We decided we should create our own forum, because we were no longer willing to participate in these non-rights based forums. In 2003 and 2004 we held seminars on the role of international law, housing, land and property restitution, international protection, and putting rights into practice. At the same time we organized study visits for Palestinian refugees to other places where refugee crises were being or had been resolved in order to see how states and the international community tackle and resolve refugee situations in other contexts. Refugees from the occupied [Palestinian] territory, Lebanon, North America, Europe and internally displaced Palestinians from Israel participated in these visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa and Cyprus. Those who could do so, also participated in “return visits” to their places of origin now located in Israel, in order to assess possibilities for return and reconstruction.
The idea of the book came about when we realized around 2004/2005 that the situation is not one where we could expect a substantial peace process would emerge again. We felt we had learned what states and civil society could do, but there was no longer a context to push for a rights-based process. At some point there will be negotiations. We felt it is important not to lose the knowledge we collected, so that our expertise can be used later.
It is a closing chapter book. At the end of the book we look back and show the lines where we are going from there, which is very different from the technical in-depth debate of the rights-based approach.
AN: How do you analyze the current situation?
IJG: The 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the construction of the wall in the occupied West Bank was a kind of turning point. It made very clear that there was no political will to implement international law, or to be clear about what is right and what is wrong. How could we expect that Israel and other states would respect their obligations, if they can even ignore the highest opinion of the ICJ? We understood that it is basically civil society that creates the political will. We can change the thinking of decision makers, this absolute no-response of states. Many of us realized this in 2004/05. Organizations engaged in collective discussions on how we analyze the situation.
It was clear that this regime [Israel] does not respect international law, but continues to commit violations over and over again. We debated what is needed to change this. At this time civil society organizations in Palestine started to discuss what is today the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to isolate Israel and to build pressure on other governments to take a position against Israel’s violations of international law.
We also analyzed the character of the regime which oppresses the Palestinian people. We got some help from independent human rights experts. Professor John Dugard helped us understand how colonization, apartheid and occupation can go together in one regime. In 2008 we had extensive, broad discussions and how the Israeli regime combined the three. It has become common to talk about Israeli apartheid today, although it is not yet clear for everybody what this means. Our challenge is to explain exactly why we say it is apartheid, what are the main characteristics of apartheid.
At the same time, we again found a situation where governments and UN institutions and bodies, people in the UN absolutely refuse to recognize that Israel is a colonial apartheid regime. They have the information — there is an unwillingness to engage. Until we reach a situation where powerful actors recognize that we live in a situation of colonialism, apartheid and occupation, not much can be done here. All the international interventions will not protect the rights of Palestinians, because they miss the root causes. All efforts of constructive engagement with Israel, like for example that of the European Union, will not work. What works is to treat Israel like apartheid South Africa was treated. Put pressure on Israel, isolate Israel until it understands there are certain rules they have to comply with.
Right now, [Israel is] building bantustans in the [West Bank], and there is displacement, the blockade of the Gaza Strip. We are moving farther away from a peace scenario. We are deep in a colonial apartheid scenario.
AN: You explained that we are in the post-peace process stage and you have explained that the Israeli regime combines colonialism, apartheid and the occupation. What are the implications for BADIL’s strategy? Or the Palestinian strategy?
IJG: Well, I think the main strategy is to build the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign as broad and as strong as possible. This is number one. It has proven to be very effective and there is potential for a bigger impact. Secondly, we have to raise awareness about this Israeli apartheid regime, even among our friends and campaigners we work with. Apartheid seems to be a bad word. We are convinced we can make a legal argument that apartheid is a crime under international law and that it applies to our situation. Thirdly, as BADIL we have to put effort at the same time into showing that positive scenarios can be developed. While we are struggling against the oppression, we have to develop a vision and show that our vision is practical and achievable.
AN: What type of support is needed in this fight phase from international organizations, citizens and social movements?
IJG: I think maximal activism and involvement in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is the most important. We would also like to see more emphasis, campaigning, raising awareness on the discrimination of Palestinian citizens in Israel and the Palestinian refugees. There is a tendency to focus on the campaign against the occupation. These other two sectors of the Palestinian people are also very much affected by this colonial, apartheid regime. We want to have solidarity with the entire Palestinian people.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.
GAZA CITY – Egyptian security forces in Rafah took control of two tunnels near Rafah they said were used for smuggling goods into Gaza, security sources told Ma’an on Wednesday.
Forces went looking for the tunnels following a tip they received around plans for smugglers to bring a load of bricks into the Gaza Strip.
With a continued ban on the entrance of construction goods for private building projects, materials like bricks and cement are unavailable to the public, restricted to the use of international aid agencies.
Egyptian security said the tunnels were located in the Al-Brazil neighborhood of Egyptian Rafah. They added that the bricks were seized and taken to a warehouse in Egypt.
On the eve of the silliest peace talks in history, the big question is this. What makes Obama’s envoy George Mitchell, a negotiator of high repute, say there is ‘no role’ for Hamas?
The talks are silly because they seek to overturn what the United Nations has already decided for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict and drive a bulldozer through the building blocks of justice.
It might be music to Zionist ears, but to people of good will it’s a cruel, futile and immensely damaging ploy.
The talks are also silly because they bring together two people who by no stretch of the imagination could qualify as partners for peace. And they sit down under the auspices of a third party with an appalling track record in the Middle East and whom no-one trusts to act fairly.
So Mitchell has been dealt a terrible hand. The former US senator, we’re told, has had an illustrious career in politics. Honours have been heaped upon him for his part in the Northern Ireland ‘Good Friday’ agreement.
Accepting one of those awards – the Liberty Medal in 1998 – Mitchell said: “I believe there’s no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended… No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how hateful, no matter how hurtful, peace can prevail. But only if those who stand for peace and justice are supported and encouraged, while those who do not are opposed and condemned. Seeking an end to conflict is not for the timid or the tentative. There must be a clear and determined policy not to yield to the men of violence…”
How about that? Conflict can be ended only by supporting those who stand for peace and condemning those who don’t. But does he know – has he really taken the trouble to find out – who actually stands for peace and justice in the ever-escalating obscenity of the Israeli occupation of Palestine? And is he absolutely clear who “the men of violence” are? Get it wrong and matters are made worse.
Mitchell is such an awesome peace-monger that he has become a visiting Professor at Britain’s Leeds Metropolitan University’s School of Applied Global Ethics, and the University is developing a new Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution bearing his name.
If Mitchell is so clued up you have to wonder why he took the job – a veritable poisoned chalice. And you’d think a person with his vast experience would stick to accepted rules of engagement for conflict resolution and peace-making. I’ll mention just three:
• Talk directly with the people who are concerned or with whom there are concerns.
• Attack the issues, not the people with whom there is disagreement.
• No issue can be ‘off limits’.
There is no-one more concerned than Hamas. As the democratically elected authority they are the principle stakeholder on the Palestinian side. Obviously they must be allowed to represent the Palestinian case. It matters not one jot or tittle that the White House has “identified” Hamas as a terrorist organization. They have legitimacy. Besides, millions outside the White House can point to Israel’s much worse terror crimes.
Mitchell, besides barring Hamas, bends even further to Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s demands and has ruled there must be no pre-conditions. Which means that Israel’s criminal conduct such as settlement construction, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, the land and sea blockade of Gaza, the occupation, the strangulation of the economy and their taste for piracy and extra-judicial killing, and their trampling of human rights including those of self-determination, are allowed to continue while the hapless Palestinians face them across the table.
And never mind that Netanyahu is permitted to enter these talks with his own pre-conditions, saying that the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes they were forced to flee, and the continuing occupation of East Jerusalem including the Old City, are not for discussion, and threatening to resume the (temporarily suspended) illegal settlement building.
If Mitchell is truly a person of integrity and a champion of “global ethics” how could he show such favour to one side?
What, I wonder, will he be saying to the Israeli team about UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which deals declares that “the City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum“ administered by the United Nations?
What will he say to them about Resolution 242 (1967) by the Security Council and therefore fully binding? This insists on:
(i) withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) termination of all claims or states of belligerency, and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
242 also emphasizes the need for:
(a) guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
(b) achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
(c) guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones.
Will Mitchell bang the table to demand long overdue action on Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), which called on the parties concerned to start immediate implementation of Security Council Resolution 242?
Security Council Resolution 446 (1979) leaves absolutely no wriggle room. It “determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace… Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.”
It’s all there, Mr Mitchell, in black and white. The UN has set it out. The world is waiting for the UN to implement it.
Israeli foreign policy is driven by manifesto promises like:
• “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.”
• “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel.”
• The claim to a national and historic right to the Land of Israel “in its entirety” and the pledge to keep Jerusalem and the settlements.
Netanyahu’s belligerent coalition government probably won’t survive unless he uses all means to achieve these unlawful and hugely provocative aims and resists demands to give back Israel’s ill-gotten gains. A thief is clearly no partner for peace.
Neither is the PLO’s Abbas, who dances to America’s tune and whose authority is in question. Any agreement he makes will be open to challenge by his own people.
Obama is US president courtesy of the pro-Israel lobby. He is like putty in their hands. And he’s so ill-informed that he told AIPAC it’s OK for Israel to grab the hallowed City of Jerusalem and turn it into the permanent headquarters of the Zionist regime. Jerusalem “will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided,” he blurted. When it dawned on him that he’d made a monumental blunder he tried to wriggle out: “Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations… And I think that it is smart for us to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem, but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city.”
A legitimate claim? Who says? And negotiate what? Has the President forgotten that the UN decided long ago that Jerusalem, along with Bethlehem, was to become an international zone?
And how can it be right for weak, unarmed and impoverished Palestinians to have to negotiate with a brutal, lawless military regime for their universal rights and freedoms, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the international community but have been denied them for decades?
Obama is clearly no genuine peace-broker.
And George Mitchell, despite his awesome reputation elsewhere, has so far failed in the Holy Land. He and his boss are getting desperate. Staging farcical, lopsided talks in order to achieve a fake, temporary peace will no doubt save a few worthless political skins for the time being. But they benefit no-one else. And they don’t do an envoy of Mitchell’s calibre any credit. He would be better employed banging heads together at the United Nations, to finish the unfinished business there and ensure all the resolutions they have passed and all the other solemn declarations they have endorsed are implemented. No need for conflict resolution, judgment has already been handed down.
Then peace talks can begin, if genuine partners and an honest broker can be found.
It’s called justice, Mr Mitchell. There’ll be no real peace until justice is delivered.
GAZA CITY — Gaza university students remain unable to access classrooms in the West Bank, a report fro the Al-Mezan Center for Human rights said on Tuesday.
“After a decade or more of de-development in Gaza,” the rights group said, residents of the Strip need all possible skills to ameliorate the humanitarian situation and advance development.
Students from Gaza City once were able to travel to the University of Birzeit by car in one hour, the report said, explaining that for students seeking post-graduate study degrees in medicine, dentistry, veterinary studies, radiology, medical environment protection, law and democracy, and human rights cannot find degree-granting institutions in Gaza, and historically looked to the West Bank for opportunities.
A blanket ban, the center said, has been imposed on Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip, preventing them enrolling at Palestinian universities in the West Bank to continue their education.
“This ban is not based on security needs – which if certain conditions are met can be legitimate in the context of belligerent occupation and armed conflict– but rather on belonging to a specific ‘category’ of persons. That is, students are prevented from accessing the West Bank
because they are students,” the report said.
In the last year, Al-Mezan reported, “all applications from students in Gaza who wish to study in the West Bank are rejected by the Israeli authorities.”