Human Rights Council demands accountaibility for war crimes in Gaza

UN HRC vote

Today (July 3, 2015) the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for accountability for possible war crimes committed in Gaza last summer.  The USA was the only member to vote NO.

Does President Obama and the others in the Administration understand the message this vote sends to the rest of the world?

Human Rights Council

Twenty-ninth session

Agenda item 7

Human rights situation in Palestine and other
occupied Arab territories

                         Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Cuba, Ecuador,* Namibia, Nicaragua,* Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Tunisia* (on behalf of the Group of Arab States), Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of): draft resolution

29/…  Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem

       The Human Rights Council,

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Recalling the relevant rules and principles of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, which is applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,

Recalling also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other human rights covenants, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,

Recalling further its relevant resolutions, including resolutions S-9/1 of 12 January 2009 and S-21/1 of 23 July 2014, and the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,[1]

Expressing its appreciation to the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict for its comprehensive report,[2]

Affirming the obligation of all parties to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law,

Emphasizing the importance of the safety and well-being of all civilians, reaffirming the obligation to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and deploring the civilian deaths that resulted from the conflict in and around the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, including the killing of 1,462 Palestinian civilians, including 551 children and 299 women, and six Israeli civilians,

Gravely concerned by reports regarding serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes, committed in the context of the military operations conducted in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2008 and 2009 and in 2014, particularly in the Gaza Strip, including the findings of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, of the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict, and of the boards of inquiry convened by the Secretary-General,

Condemning all violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, and appalled at the widespread and unprecedented levels of destruction, death and human suffering caused,

Stressing the urgency of achieving without delay an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967,

Deploring the non-cooperation by Israel with the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict and the refusal to grant access to or to cooperate with international human rights bodies seeking to investigate alleged violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,

Regretting the lack of implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which follows a pattern of lack of implementation of recommendations made by United Nations mechanisms and bodies,

Alarmed that long-standing systemic impunity for international law violations has allowed for the recurrence of grave violations without consequence, and stressing the need to ensure accountability for all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in order to end impunity, ensure justice, deter further violations, protect civilians and promote peace,

Emphasizing the need for States to investigate grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to end impunity, uphold their obligations to ensure respect, and promote international accountability,

Noting the accession by Palestine to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 2 January 2015,

  1. Welcomes the report of the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict;2
  2. Calls upon all duty bearers and United Nations bodies to pursue the implementation of all recommendations contained in the report of the commission of inquiry, in accordance with their respective mandates;
  3. Notes the importance of the work of the commission of inquiry and of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2009 and the information collected regarding grave violations in support of future accountability efforts, in particular, information on alleged perpetrators of violations of international law;
  4. Emphasizes the need to ensure that all those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are held to account through appropriate fair and independent domestic or international criminal justice mechanisms, and to ensure the right of all victims to an effective remedy, including full reparations, and stresses the need to pursue practical steps towards these goals;
  5. Calls upon the parties concerned to cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened;
  6. Calls upon all States to promote compliance with human rights obligations and all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to respect, and to ensure respect for, international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in accordance with article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions, and to fulfil their obligations under articles 146, 147 and 148 of the said Convention with regard to penal sanctions, grave breaches and the responsibilities of the High Contracting Parties;
  7. Recommends that the General Assembly remain apprised of the matter until it is satisfied that appropriate action with regard to implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in its report has been or is being taken appropriately at the domestic or international levels to ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators;
  8. Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present, as part of the reporting requested by the Human Rights Council in its resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1, a report on the implementation of the present resolution, as well as on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict and of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, to the Council at its thirty-first session;
  9. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

                                *    Non-member State of the Human Rights Council.

                     [1]   A/HRC/12/48.

                     [2]   A/HRC/29/52.

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Filed under Israel, US Policy, Israel Defense Forces, United Nations, Gaza

UN Commission Finds Possible War Crimes – Next Step ICC

Rumor has it that the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will have an opportunity to vote tomorrow (July 3, 2015) on a Resolution supporting the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. The United States is an HRC member, and I’m making calls to the White House and State Department today urging our support. The Administration has already signaled its opinion that nothing further should be done with the UN report.

One year following the brutal 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and people in Gaza are still waiting for reconstruction to begin, for some healing, if possible. They certainly don’t want to be forgotten.

Palestinian child's drawing in Gaza

Palestinian child’s drawing in Gaza

The U.N. Report generated considerable criticism, although most readers only look for facts to support their predetermined ideas or bias, with objectivity in short supply. Instead, we find confirmation bias operating like a software program quietly beneath the surface, behind our active thought processes, so we don’t even recognize it’s there.

“What is my bias?” I ask myself.

I must have been wearing my super-duper law professor goggles when I read the U.N. Report because I kept thinking “this would make a wonderful syllabus for a law school class focused on international humanitarian and human rights law.”  The summary of the applicable laws, the presentation of the facts, the description of the “reasonable person standard” and how the law is applied to the facts —- it was all there.

A reasonable and ordinarily prudent person would have reason to believe that such an incident or pattern of conduct had occurred. (A lower standard than is required in criminal trials.) (para. 19)

With methodological detail, the Commissioners even “schooled” Israel’s Military Advocate General on using proper investigative techniques (para. 630-633) and corrected the drafter of the IDF Code of Ethics that the new term “enemy civilian” does not exist in international law.

“One of the most elementary principles of international humanitarian law is the obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians; however it never establishes different categories of civilians. The commission reiterates that a civilian is a civilian regardless of nationality, race or the place where he or she lives.” (para. 395)

Commissioners Davis and Diene, each highly qualified for the difficult task assigned to them, stuck to the facts without hyperbole or exaggeration.

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Mary McGowan Davis (USA) and Doudou Diene (Senegal)

Many advocates on both sides (Israel & Palestine) were not pleased with the UN Report, as I posted earlier.  Perhaps they were expecting something different or didn’t understand the role and responsibilities of this Commission. Davis and Diene were not appointed to be judge and jury, and were certainly not going to render a verdict or deliver justice. They were appointed as an investigative team to ferret out the facts, and to ensure that the voices of all victims were heard. (para.6) 

Although Israel denied them access to Gaza, and refused to cooperate with the investigation, the Commission conducted more than 280 confidential interviews on both sides, reviewed more than 500 written submissions, including satellite imagery, expert weapons analyses, video file & photos. (para. 14)

What follows are some snippets from the U.N. Report that I wish had been highlighted in the mainstream media, but were not.

  • The Commission found that Israel has “effective control” over Gaza. (para. 30) Despite Israel’s assertions that it evacuated Gaza in 2005, and thus the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied territory, the Commission disagreed.
  • Israel claims that the international human rights (IHR) laws and international humanitarian laws (laws of war) are mutually exclusive and so the IHR do not apply to Gaza, but the Commission didn’t buy that notion for a second. (para. 39-40)
  • In a breath of fresh air, the Commission noted that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has observed that the “existence of a ‘Palestinian people’ is no longer in issue.  The right of self-determination is part of the ‘legitimate rights’ of the Palestinian people.” (para. 42)
  • Some commentators have criticised the U.N. Report for not establishing the proper “context” and for equating the State of Israel with its nemesis and archrival Hamas. The Commission, however, placed the hostilities in the context of the prolonged occupation, an increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel and no “political prospects for reaching a solution to the conflict that would achieve peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis and realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” The Commission also noted Israel’s blockade since 2007 is strangling the people in Gaza (para. 53-54) and that the impact of the 2014 war cannot be assessed separately from the blockade. (para. 598). The Commission asserted that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism established in September 2014 is not a substitute for lifting the blockade. (para. 599).
  • Some commentators have objected to the Report’s perceived “balance” and “evenhandedness” as if both sides experienced equal levels of trauma and loss, and both sides were equally to blame. The facts are duly catalogued and speak for themselves — the number of casualties on either side, the number of buildings and neighborhoods destroyed, the numbers of whole families killed, and the types of weapons used by the IDF and militants — and no one can set this Report down believing there was any equivalency between Israel and Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. (paras. 59 – 215) More than 1,500 Palestinian children were orphaned. (para. 594). Almost 800 women were widowed last summer. (para. 596). 18,000 homes were destroyed, and an estimated 80,000 homes and properties need to be rehabilitated. (para. 576) One hospital and 5 clinics were destroyed in Gaza. Fifteen hospitals and 51 clinics were damaged. (para. 591). 209 schools in Gaza were damaged or destroyed, 3 universities were directly hit by Israeli strikes, while eight sustained collateral damage, 274 kindergartens were damaged and 11 were destroyed. (para. 585)  During the hostilities, approximately 1/2 million Palestinians were displaced (28% of the population in Gaza) (para.577) and more than 300,000 Palestinians took shelter in 85 UNRWA schools thinking they were safe havens, only to find that Israel attacked these shelters 7 times, killing between 44 and 47 people, including 14 children and 4 women. (para. 421) 63 water facilities were damaged and 23 were completely destroyed. 60% of the sewage treatment plants, along with 27% of the pumping stations were destroyed. (para. 584) Contrary to one critical headline, the UN Report was not attempting to hide massive Israeli war crimes behind ‘balance’ smokescreen.
  • Regarding the notorious tunnels between Gaza and Israel that Americans heard so much about on TV last summer, the Commission said it doesn’t know what the purpose of the tunnels might have been but noted that during the time period under investigation, they were only used to attack military targets. (para. 108) The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels. (para.562)
  • The IDF launched more than 6,000 airstrikes on Gaza, 142 families had 3 or more family members killed in the same incident because of the destruction of residential buildings. (para. 111) The testimony of many families was provided in their own words. (para. 117). “A significant % of civilians in Gaza killed during the conflict died inside their home as a direct result of air-strikes or artillery shelling of their neighborhoods, making attacks on houses a key feature of the conflict. These strikes may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decisionmakers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.” (para. 243)
  • Israel demolished several neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip beginning with Beit Hanoun on July 18-19 and  Shuja’iya on July 19-20. (para. 251 – 299) and Khuza’a from July 20 – August 1. (para. 300  et seq) The Commission concluded that razing entire areas in Khuza’a indicates that the IDF carried out destruction that were not required by military necessity, and was carried out unlawfully and wantonly, possibly a war crime. (para. 340)  “The vast scale of destruction may have been adopted as tactics of war.” (para.418)

In Shuja’iya, at about 3.30 p.m., Salem Shamaly, a local resident who had joined a group of international volunteers while searching for his missing cousin, was killed. As the volunteers were crossing a small alley, they heard a shot. The group immediately divided into two and took cover at opposite ends of the alley. Shortly afterwards, Salem Shamaly moved out of the area where he was taking cover and was shot. As he lay injured on the ground, he was shot twice again and killed. This incident was recorded on video. (para. 280)

  • Netanyahu has made Israel’s case for the morality of the Gaza campaign, but “morality” flew the coop when the IDF refused to allow Red Cross ambulances access to help victims, or in the case when the ambulance was permitted to enter but not allowed to leave and so rescue workers had to carry the injured victims out on their shoulders. (para. 332)  The IDF was clearly targeting ambulances (para. 459) and eyewitness testimony described the death of one ambulance driver. (para. 458)  In Khuza’a, a family was forced to leave Ghalia Abu Reda, a 70-year-old woman in a wheelchair, behind as they fled their home. Before shooting her in the head at close range, an IDF soldier posted a photo on Twitter showing the soldiers offering this old woman water. Family members later saw her picture on Twitter. (para. 333)
  • The IDF said that 5000 tons of munitions were supplied last summer.(para. 408) The Commission shared its concern about the explosive power of the weapons and the amount of ordnance used, and noted that it represented a 533% increase over the ordnance used during Operation Cast Lead in (2008-2009) on Gaza. (para. 409). At least 7,000 explosives wait to be recovered in Gaza. (para.575)
  • The U.N. Commission also examined events in the West Bank last summer, noting the murder of 3 Israeli teens (para.503) and the vicious murder of the Palestinian teen, Mohammad Abu Khdeir, (para.505). Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper included mass arrests, (para. 509) administrative detentions doubled last summer, (para. 513) approximately 1,400 houses were raided, (para. 519), punitive home demolitions (para.526) and there were serious restrictions on movement. (para.524). Between June 12 and August 26, 2014 — 27 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, including 5 kids, with over 3,100 injured. (para.533)  A well-known civil society activist was killed by a sniper in the Hebron area with IDF snipers stationed on rooftops. (para.536)

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The take-away message — accountability is the key.

The track record for holding anyone accountable is dismal. Following Operation Cast Lead (2008-09), 52 investigations were opened, 3 were prosecuted, resulting in 4 convictions, not against the most serious violations. Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) did not result in any criminal investigations. (para.650) 

A year following Operation Protective Edge, the only indictment has been for a relatively minor offense of theft while Israel has closed its criminal investigation into killing the 4 Bakr boys on the Gaza beach. (para.633)

Left to its own devices, Israel hasn’t shown itself capable of conducting credible investigations in the past, and prefers to obfuscate, discredit the U.N., find generals from other countries to bless its conduct of Operation Protective Edge, and weave its Orwellian tale about “enemy civilians” and being the “most moral army in the world.”

The Commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed by the IDF, whether it be in the context of active hostilities in Gaza, or the killings, torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. (para.644)

Among the recommendations that jump out at me:

  • The U.N. Commission asks “both sides to refrain from making statements that dehumanize the other side, incite hatred and only serve to perpetuate a culture of violence.” (para.678)
  • Israel should implement the Turkel recommendations, an initiative of the State of Israel two years ago following the Mavi Marmara killings. I want to learn more about the Turkel recommendations. (para.662)
  • The State of Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute January 1, 2015 which gives the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute potential war crimes. Palestine also acceded to 7 of 9 core human rights treaties and one substantive protocol. The State of Israel has not acceded to the Rome Statute — it should. (para. 658, 659, 660, 681) Although Israel’s position is that its own internal investigation precludes an ICC investigation, I don’t agree. (para.661) The subject of another blog post.

Rumor has it that the next stop in securing justice for the victims is the ICC. The U.N. Commission’s Report will undoubtedly be an important part of the ICC’s deliberations.

Dahlia Scheindlin’s and Natasha Roth’s commentary “The oddity of finding hope while investigating war crimes” (July 1, 2015) is one of the best I’ve read about the U.N. Report. In it, Commissioner Diène summed up the investigation: “We have heard testimonies from people who have lost relatives, yet have expressed a very deep feeling for the suffering of the other side.” He went on: “The father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir told me that many Israelis came to his house to express their solidarity [after the murder of his son]. …On the other side, the [Israeli] mother of a 4-year-old child that was killed [by a Palestinian rocket] expressed very emotionally her deep thoughts for mothers on the Palestinian side. There was a human side to this war that was not really perceived by the outside world.”

…And that is what international human rights law and

humanitarian law is all about … the people!

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Filed under Politics, People, Israel, Occupation, Israel Defense Forces, United Nations, Gaza, Video

The U.N. Report on 2014 Gaza War – What do you see?

We see what we want to see.

(Those 7 small words explain everything.)

Whether it’s the Pope’s Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision about Same-Sex Marriage, or the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, we read them with our own biases and expectations, finding exactly what we thought we would find in each.

The psychologists call it confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.

Pope Francis is either meddling in politics, or he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Justice Kennedy and four of his breathren on the bench who ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, have either dealt a blow to our Constitution or they’ve advanced liberty and equality in our country.

And how was the U.N. Independent Commission’s Report received?

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If people read all 217 pages (I did), they will find alot of substance (summarized in a follow-up blog post). However, the swift reactions to the report were nearly as telling as the evidence gathered by the U.N. Commission. There were those who condemned it, others praised it, and a few wished to ignore it. But everyone found what they were looking for.

  • Israeli officials tried to preempt the U.N. Commission’s Report by releasing their own report a few days earlier. “Israel predicts the new report from the United Nations will be a hatchet job. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that anyone who wants to read ‘the truth’ should download the Israeli report. ‘Whoever wants to automatically — and without foundation — blame Israel, let them waste their time with the U.N. Human Rights Council report,’ he said.” Netanyahu probably didn’t appreciate the irony in his words — automatically jumping to conclusions, as he was, without seeing the U.N. Report. (Israel says war in Gaza was moral and deaths are the fault of Hamas, Washington Post, June 14, 2015, William Booth).
  • When the U.N. Report was released, Israeli officials appeared “particularly stung by its lumping together of the Israeli army with its arch enemy, Hamas.” … “Any fair inquiry into armed conflict must always draw a distinction between the aggressor and the side asserting its right to self-defense,” Dore Gold, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview. “The fact that the United Nations report fails to distinguish between Israel and Hamas is one of its most central flaws.” (U.N. report on Gaza: Israel, Hamas may both have committed war crimes, The Washington Post, June 22, 2015, William Booth and Ruth Eglash)
  • The Washington Post summarized the “United Nations’ rather even-handed approach,” including links to other reports and opinions, but ended with a cautionary note that the U.N. Report would likely be added to the “growing case file at the International Criminal Court” which could place Israeli leaders alongside heinous fugitive war criminals such as Uganda guerrilla Joseph Kony, further deepening Israel’s growing international isolation. (The U.N. report on Israel’s Gaza War: What you need to know, Washington Post, June 22, 2015, Ishaan Tharoor)
  • What was the official U.S. government position?  Predictably, we echoed our good friend, Israel, and concluded the U.N. Report was biased from the start. Asked during a press conference if the State Department is reading the report, John Kirby, the State Dept. spokesperson responded: “Certainly we’re reading it. But as I also said yesterday, we challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all UN reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.” (John Kirby, Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, Washington, DC, June 23, 2015)
  • An opinion piece in The Guardian castigated the U.N. Commission’s Report for failure to establish the context of the conflict. Naturally, the context the author wanted to see was his own version of history. (The U.N. is preserving the Israeli occupation, The Guardian, June 26, 2015, Ari Shavit opinion)
  • The New York Times published an opinion piece by a retired British Army colonel who warned that the U.N. Report is “flawed and dangerous” and will “provoke further violence and loss of life.” (The U.N.’s Gaza Report is Flawed and Dangerous, The New York Times, June 25, 2015, Richard Kemp opinion). The author had earlier testified before the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry. Just to be even-handed, let’s see if The New York Times publishes an opinion piece by the parents of the four Bakr boys killed on the beach in Gaza.

Boys at beach

  • Norman Finkelstein, a controversial scholar and critic of the Israeli occupation, also found much to criticise in the U.N. Report. In an online Q&A, Finkelstein wrote: “A huge gap existed between the descriptions compiled in the report and the concomitant legal analysis in each section. The descriptions were graphic and compelling, but the legal analysis seemed to minimize Israel’s accountability. The reader senses that the person writing the legal analysis (probably [Judge Mary McGowan] Davis) was straining to be “fair,” to the point that it became unserious.” (UN report on Gaza war is ‘tepid,’ ‘unserious,’ and exhibits ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’. Mondoweiss, June 27, 2015)
  • The New York Times Editorial Board concluded that “It’s unrealistic to expect Hamas to follow international law but Israel has a duty, and should have a desire, to adjust its military policies to avoid civilian casualties and hold those who failed to do so accountable.” (War Crimes and the Gaza War, The New York Times, June 23, 2015, The Editorial Board)

In the report released on Monday by the UN commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza war, one passage stands out. “Palestinian and Israeli children were savagely affected by the events. Children on both sides suffered from bed-wetting, shaking at night, clinging to parents, nightmares and increased levels of aggressiveness.” Those words are a reminder that, in all the positioning and spinning that follows a report of this kind, the heart of the matter is the human cost, usually paid by the most vulnerable.

The death toll of last summer’s violence was lopsided – with more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis killed – but the UN report strains to understand the Israeli as well as Palestinian narrative behind those numbers.

Both sides like to claim the moral advantage, even while locked in a vicious conflict. If they really believe that, then they must bring those accused of grave crimes to justice.

Some found the U.N. Report provocative, inciteful or perhaps insightful, destructive, courageous, newsworthy, or a waste of time —- but each found the truth he/she was looking for.

A summary of the U.N. Report and “my” conclusions

follow in the next blog post.

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Filed under People, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, United Nations, Hamas, Media, Gaza

A Grave In Gaza – An Omar Yussef Mystery

Matt Beynon Rees – Soho Press Inc. (2008)

I’m not much of a fan of mysteries and probably wouldn’t have picked up this book except for the title “A Grave in Gaza” and the setting, the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian principal of an UNRWA school in Bethlehem (Omar Yussef) accompanies his U.N. colleagues to check up on some UNRWA schools in Gaza. When they arrive, their journey suddenly takes a detour when they learn of the arrest of a UN teacher who apparently has uncovered a corrupt “diploma for sale” operation. How can they get to the bottom of the scandal and free him?

This fast-paced mystery weaves many facets of Palestinian life into the plot, including: rival militant gangs, the government security forces, the tunnels in Rafah, and the corrupt Palestinian leadership. There are several mysteries within the larger plot that keep the reader on his/her toes.

Personally, I was intrigued with the author’s description of locations in Gaza with which I’m familiar. So realistic, in fact, that I felt myself transported back to Gaza City, Rafah, Deir El-Balah and Jabalyia. I never met any characters who matched the ruthlessness of the militants or Palestinian leaders in this book, but I wouldn’t be surprise if they exist.

Nothing is really like what it appears in Gaza, especially to foreigners, which makes excellent fodder for a mystery series.

A Grave in Gaza is the second Omar Yussef Mystery, following The Collaborator of Bethlehem. The third Omar Yussef Mystery is The Samaritan’s Secret, and The Fourth Assassin takes Omar Yussef to Brooklyn. Each is available as an audiobook too, which I’m ordering today for my iPod to take with me on my treks.

Matt Beynon Rees has also written a nonfiction book that will be my next read, Cain’s Field: Faith, Fraticide and Fear in the Middle East.

In this gripping account of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, award-winning journalist Matt Rees takes us deep within Israeli and Palestinian societies to reveal the fractures at the core of both. While the world focuses almost exclusively on the violent clash between the two camps, Rees exposes the internal rifts that drain each society of its ability to act cohesively. This dazzling, groundbreaking narrative goes behind the familiar moves of the big players to reveal the individuals who are at war not only with the enemy, but also with their own people.

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Jerusalem in the U.S. Supreme Court

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Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky will not have “Israel” listed as his place of birth on his U.S. passport, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8, 2015. (Zivotofsky v. Kerry, No. 13-628) He was born in Jerusalem in 2002 to American parents who made the request that Israel be officially listed on their son’s passport, but the U.S. Embassy refused and listed Menachem’s place of birth as Jerusalem because it’s been a long-standing policy of our government not to recognize any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Justice Kennedy — author of the 6-3 opinion — noted:

Jerusalem’s political standing has long been, and remains, one of the most sensitive issues in American foreign policy, and indeed it is one of the most delicate issues in current international affairs. In 1948, President Truman formally recognized Israel in a signed statement of “recognition.” See Statement by the President Announcing Recognition of the State of Israel, Public Papers of the Presidents, May 14, 1948, p. 258 (1964). That statement did not recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Over the last 60 years, various actors have sought to assert full or partial sovereignty over the city, including Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Yet, in contrast to a consistent policy of formal recognition of Israel, neither President Truman nor any later United States President has issued an official statement or declaration acknowledging any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Instead, the Executive Branch has maintained that “‘the status of Jerusalem . . . should be decided not unilaterally but in consultation with all concerned.’” United Nations Gen. Assembly Official Records, 5th Emergency Sess., 1554th Plenary Meetings, United Nations Doc. No. 1 A⁄PV.1554, p. 10 (July 14, 1967); see, e.g., Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations Gen. Assembly (Sept. 21, 2011), 2011 Daily Comp. of Pres. Doc. No. 00661, p. 4 (“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them,” including “Jerusalem”).

Congress tried to force the issue by passing Section 214, titled “United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel,” which required the Secretary of State to heed the wishes of families who requested their children’s place of birth be listed as Israel, rather than Jerusalem, on their passports. President George W. Bush signed the law but warned that if it was more than just advisory, it would impermissibly interfere with the President’s constitutional authority regarding recognition of foreign states.

The law has never been enforced.

Then in stepped the Zivotofsky family who challenged the U.S. Embassy’s decision, while holding up Section 214 in their defense. Their arguments failed in the lower courts but that didn’t dissuade them.

Finally Justice Kennedy put the issue to rest. The court ruled Section 214 is unconstitutional. The decision is worth reading, available here.

Kennedy made it clear that the court was addressing only 2 questions and the Justices had no business interfering in foreign affairs.

First, the court decided that the President has the exclusive power to grant formal recognition to a foreign sovereign; and second, Congress couldn’t command the President and his Secretary to contradict the earlier recognition.

Before reaching the question of [Section 214’s] constitutionality, the Court for the first time in history ruled that the president has the exclusive power to decide what other foreign nations the United States will formally recognize for nation-to-nation dealings, and that Congress may not force the president to make a different choice about that. In fact, most of Justice Kennedy’s thirty-page opinion was devoted to that core question about the Constitution’s distribution of foreign policy powers.

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Naturally, the Palestinians are pleased with the decision, and the Mayor of Jerusalem …. not so much.

I’m left wondering if Zivotofsky v. Kerry opens the door on another related issue.  In November, Sweden became the 135th member of the United Nations to recognize the State of Palestine.  It’s about time the United States joined the community of nations.

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Futbol aka soccer – a game in Israel’s crosshairs

Mural on Palestine Stadium entrance in Gaza

Mural on Palestine Stadium entrance in Gaza

The international FIFA scandal got more ink and soundbites than it deserved, in my humble opinion.

Maybe that organization is oozing in corruption, and the arrests of high FIFA officials were warranted. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Maybe Sepp Blatter’s reelection was fair and square. I doubt it.

The real story here never got much attention. I’m disappointed.

Palestine Stadium

Palestine Stadium

Here’s the story you should have read or seen on the nightly news:

1) Israeli authorities have routinely locked up Palestinian futbol (aka soccer) players, and thrown away the keys. Mahmoud Sarsak comes to mind. Arrested and held without charge for 3 years, he was finally freed following a very long hunger strike when he lost more than 1/2 his body weight. (* I think he’s recently been detained again.) And it’s well-documented that Israeli authorities frequently prevent or delay Palestinian athletes from traveling for practice or games.

2) The Palestinian Authority, in response, had urged FIFA to expel Israel from the organization.

3) That vote was scheduled to occur this week but, mysteriously, the U.S. Department of Justice decided to arrest high-level FIFA officials on charges of corruption, following a 4-year FBI investigation.  Interesting timing!

4) Also mysteriously, the Palestinian representative suddently withdrew his motion to expel Israel.

Despite an avowed determination to see a vote on the issue, Rajoub withdrew the proposal Friday. Instead, the 209 FIFA member associations voted to set up cooperative groups to work out problems.

The proposal calls for creating “a three-party working group (composed of the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and a representative of FIFA) that would meet monthly to clarify and solve issues.”

It also calls for introducing “football IDs” for Palestinian athletes and officials, to help speed up the process of passing through checkpoints.

The proposal was adopted with support of 90 percent, garnering 165 votes.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium in Gaza destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Palestine Stadium destroyed by Israel in November 2012.

Now I’m not sure 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 here but I’m pretty sure there’s a story behind the story that we’re not hearing. A good reporter would be asking more questions.

1)  Why did the U.S. Justice Department decide to make the arrests now, not last year? (On a side note, why go after FIFA officials while Wall Street bankers should be arrested?)

2)  Why did the Palestinian representative withdraw his demands for a vote to expel Israel?

3) Why did the Israeli military target the Palestine Stadium in Gaza? Has it been rebuilt?

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Filed under Football - Soccer

Facing the question: What makes life worth living?

This short story was originally published on the blogWe Are Not Numbers: We are Individuals Trying to Change the World. Check it out here.

Anas Jnena

Facing the question: What makes life worth living?

I first met Ahmed in early 2012, in a small park in Gaza’s Shuja’ya neighborhood – a place where my friends and I usually meet whenever there is a power cut in our neighborhood. The night air was dry and cool and I was waiting for my friends to arrive. On that particular day, however, they were late. Being the person I am, I patiently waited for them. I found a medium-sized rock with a flat surface at the corner of the park and decided to sit while I lost myself in a sea of thoughts. I was planning a prank to scare one of my best friends, Hamza.

In the still darkness, I was sure nobody would ever notice me. I saw someone approaching and immediately thought of Hamza. I could already feel the excitement deep in the pit of my stomach as I imagined his face when I pulled my prank on him. But much to my surprise, I saw Ahmed instead.

That was our first meeting. He said hello to me; I returned his greeting. He looked calm and experienced, even though he clearly was not the educated type. His features were not what you would call attractive, but there was something about his face that captured my attention. I loved the way he smiled; it was sort of crooked, his black eyes got small and his lips curved inward as if he was sucking on a lemon. Even today, whenever I see Ahmed smile, I know it is genuine and not forced. Since Hamza hadn’t arrived yet – though he had promised me he would be on time – I decided to take this opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. It was at that moment I got to know Ahmed, and his life story was something I did not expect.

Ahmed is the second-oldest child among 10. He dropped out of school when he was 15. His parents were struggling to keep the family from falling apart, so he decided he too should work and reduce his family’s burden. He started selling newspapers on the streets.

Working in the tunnels was hard work, but it paid well

Unemployment is very high in Gaza; nearly 60 percent among youth. But Ahmed soon was lucky enough to land a better-paying job—as a worker in the smuggling tunnels of Rafah, in the southern part of Gaza, beneath the Egyptian border. Those smuggling tunnels employed thousands of young men whose job was mainly to haul goods—including food, clothing and fuel—into the blockaded Gaza. The work was hard and dangerous; he was assigned a 12-hour shift, six days a week, in cramped spaces. Sudden tunnel collapses, electrocution and Israeli airstrikes were very possible, However, that didn’t stop Ahmed from being a diligent worker. Ahmed was extremely grateful; the pay was around 150 shekels (US$39) per day and he knew that with this job, he could ensure the ones he loved a better future.

There were some very daunting days, when Ahmed decided to spend the night at his work place due to the fact that his home was relatively far from Rafah. He often found shelter at the entrance of the tunnel, and tried his best to get the rest his body desperately needed. Though it wasn’t comfortable spending the night on the ground, far from home in a place where his life was endangered, Ahmed never minded much.

Most of his earnings were used for his family’s expenses, but instead of grumbling about not having much money for himself – as most youth our age do – Ahmed instead felt like he had accomplished something big in life since he had managed to lift some of his parents’ burden. He even gave around $2,000 to his oldest brother for his marriage. I had never encountered someone so selfless, and we became fast friends.

Early the next year (2013), Ahmed finally got engaged to the girl he loved. Perhaps God listened to his silent prayers and decided to grant them. He even brought me and some friends some sweets and invited his close friends for dinner.. Seeing Ahmed happy brought light to everyone’s heart. But that event also changed Ahmed a bit. He doubled his efforts and worked twice as hard as he had before. Many of his friends didn’t see him that often anymore, since he was always too busy with work.

Later that year, the unexpected happened. Egypt’s military destroyed most of the tunnels to improve their own security, causing Ahmed and thousands of other young Gazans, to lose their humble jobs. The transition from employed to unemployed resulted in many other changes to Ahmed’s life. He started to spend most of his time in Alshuj’ya Park, becoming more pessimistic and hopeless. He delayed his wedding celebration because he couldn’t afford the expenses. Money that he earned from odd jobs was constantly used for family purposes, until he finally was completely out of cash. Day by day, his financial situation became worse.


The Egyptian military destroyed hundreds of tunnels (Photo by Ahmed Elsherif)

By 2014, Ahmed’s life had completely changed. He couldn’t bring himself to visit his fiancée’s house because he felt ashamed. If he didn’t even have money to provide for his current family, how was he to support a wife and family one day? He felt as if the world had turned sinister and now was laughing at his failure.

One cold and dry night, after the power went out, Ahmed decided to put an end to his suffering. He found an electrical cable and tied it to the ceiling of his room. Ahmed got up on the chair and kicked it away.

But it did not end there.

As if on cue, his sister saw Ahmed hanging and started screaming. Her cries echoed through the house, awakening everyone. Mohammed, Ahmed’s younger brother, was on the scene in a flash—lifting him up to relieve the tension while his sister cut the cable. Ahmed was miraculously saved.

As for me, I could not suppress my confusion and doubt. So I decided to ask him directly: “Why did you do it, Ahmed?” He replied, “It’s because I couldn’t maintain my self-esteem. All doors of hope have been closed to me in Gaza. It is a suspended death to be unemployed.”

Postscript: Since then, Ahmed has survived Israel’s 50-day assault against Gaza (July 8-Aug. 26), and he still has only occasional day work. However, he remains engaged to the love of his life. And I am still his friend


Shuja’ya Park, before the 2014 summer war (photo by Abo Alyan)

Shujaya Park after the war  (photo by Abo Alyan)

Mentor: Leslie Thatcher

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Filed under Gaza, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People