Category Archives: United Nations

#FreeRamiAman

A Palestinian man has been arrested and held in detention in Gaza for the crime of participating in “normalization” activities with Israelis. His name is Rami Aman. For the past six months, as far as anyone knows, he hasn’t been charged or given an opportunity to respond in court.

To be clear, this is nothing new for either Hamas in Gaza, or the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the occupied territories, or the civil Israeli government in Israel. All four threaten to punish civilians who collaborate with the “enemy.” Israel forbids its citizens from visiting with Palestinians. The IDF routinely arrests Palestinian children and hauls them off to military detention. Some remain in detention for many months.

Rami Aman certainly knew what the risks were when he joined that Zoom call with Israelis, but he had nothing to hide. Unlike the “collaborators” who sneak around and work with the enemy to undermine the Palestinian military objectives, Rami wants Israelis to know Palestinians; and vice versa. He understands that the future depends on both sides understanding the other.

A former research consultant with Amnesty International in Gaza saw the zoom meeting and tagged Hamas officials to bring to their attention this forbidden “normalization” activity.

“So what’s wrong with talking? What’s normalization?”

Mike Merryman-Lotze with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) answers both questions in this excellent piece he wrote in 2018. My personal understanding of the subject was greatly improved after reading Mike’s story this Spring and his words of caution; I highly recommend it.

Mike ends with the following points:

“First, we should recognize that Palestinians and Israelis are getting together and cooperating but on their own terms. One of the key problems with many past people-to-people programs is that they were initiated and led by outside actors who imposed their own goals and terms on interactions. The normalization framework pushed forward by Palestinians is a reassertion of ownership of the terms of interaction by those most impacted by the systematic injustice of Israel’s occupation and inequality. Normalization principles transform interactions, moving them from coexistence-focused dialogue sessions to action-based interaction with the goal of transformation through co-resistance against injustice. If you are thinking about supporting dialogue or people-to-people programs, it is important to consider who “owns” the process and how it resists structures of injustice.

Second, we should understand that dialogue is not an end in and of itself and that dialogue can be harmful. Particularly in situations of ongoing injustice, attempts to bring people together can’t simply focus on building understanding if there is no corresponding effort by all involved to end the injustice and inequality that stands between people. While dialogue and exchange can be important parts of transformation, they can also be tools used to block change; reinforce existing imbalances of power; and erase legal, institutional, and structural injustices. Whether we are setting up panel discussions or working to pull people together, we always need to understand issues of power. Dialogue is not a neutral process, and we must carefully consider how dialogue pushes toward action for change.

Third, it is important to understand that the normalization discussion is largely not about us. Normalization concerns do not place blocks on Quakers listening to, interacting with, or dialoguing with any party. Challenging normalization initiatives is not aimed at silencing select viewpoints or limiting who is able to speak. Indeed, listening to and engaging with those with whom we disagree is an important part of building understanding as we push for change. The normalization discussion is about addressing power imbalances and injustice in relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, not shutting off all dialogue or ending conversations that build understanding.

Finally, the normalization conversation points to the fact that dialogue and listening are not enough. To achieve peace and justice there must be political change that ends the system of inequality and oppression that exists between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as U.S. complicity in that injustice. To address this, Quakers must then move beyond positions that express concern for both parties and that encourage dialogue and listening but that don’t lead to direct action. Quakers should support direct action to end injustice, such as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and AFSC-led No Way to Treat a Child Campaign. We can support discussions, but we must back up our support for talk with support for action.”

I agree with Mike’s observations and words of caution, with the exception of his conclusion. He writes: “It is political change and an end to injustice that will lead to dialogue and understanding, and it is political action that is needed to bring change.” Which comes first — the chicken or the egg? I believe dialogue and understanding are the precursors to a political change and an end to injustice. But the dialogue must occur with Mike’s caveats in mind.

Rami Aman – Gaza Strip

On September 9, 2020, a group of NGOS submitted a 24 page petition at the UN on behalf of Rami Aman. Check it out here.

The group that filed the petition — UN Watch — is an apologist for Israel’s crimes and human rights abuses in the occupation, and regularly calls out anyone or any country that stands up in support of Palestine in the United Nations. Sadly, Hamas’ actions in Rami Aman’s detention have given the UN Watch and the State of Israel fodder for their campaign.

Anyone familiar with the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians will find the following words from the petition hypocritical in the extreme coming from the UN Watch, but no less true.

The Applicant is a Palestinian peace activist who resides in Gaza. He was arrested by Hamas security forces on 9 April 2020, three days after his peace group, the Gaza Youth Committee, held a two-hour video call with Israeli peace activists via Zoom. He is accused of holding a “normalization” activity with Israelis. Normalization refers to cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, including peace dialogue. According to both the Palestinian Authority (“PA”) and Hamas, normalization is a crime which is tantamount to treason. The criminalization of peace dialogue is a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and association pursuant to Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”). Likewise, detention on that basis is a violation of ICCPR Article 19.

The Applicant has now been in Hamas detention for more than four months. His due process rights are being egregiously violated. He has not yet been charged and has never had an opportunity to challenge his detention in court. Moreover, he is a civilian who will be subjected
to trial in a Hamas Military Court in violation of ICCPR Article 14.

Then the petition begins its propaganda campaign against Hamas by equating “collaboration” with “normalization” which I will not recite here. These are two very different activities but even many Palestinians can’t tell the difference!

Consistent with the above, the PA and Hamas reject any “normalization” with Israel. Normalization includes joint economic activities, joint sports activities and meetings to promote peace. As detailed below, Hamas considers “normalization” to be a form of treason and uses various provisions of the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979 to prosecute that crime.

Mr. Aman was held incommunicado for at least one week. According to a statement published by Amnesty International on 6 May 2020, Mr. Aman was permitted to speak with his family for the first time by telephone on 26 April 2020—more than two weeks after the arrest. According to information provided to us, he has had one visit with his family since then. Also, Mr. Aman has had three visits with his lawyer, the first on 16 April 2020—one week after the arrest. The Amnesty International statement added that Mr. Aman was likely to be charged under Article 164 of the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, which refers to “propaganda aimed at weakening the revolution” and that he was likely to be tried in a military court. In addition, Mr. Aman has not yet been charged or brought before a court.

I’d like to know why Amnesty International, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Lawyers Guild, and other groups that often stand up for Palestinians have not voiced their objections to Rami’s arrest and detention. Clearly, Rami has become a political football in the international arena now. Dialogue and understanding of the “other” will likely be the victim.

Coalition of NGOs that signed the petition.

University College Dublin (Ireland)

Global Human Rights Defence (Netherlands)

African Agency for Integrated Development (Uganda)

Global Vision India Foundation (India)

Help People Foundation (Italy)

Sisters of Charity Federation (United States)

Action Sécurité Ethique Républicaines (France)

Geneva International Model United Nations (Switzerland)

Forum Méditerranéen pour la Promotion des Droits du Citoyen (Morocco)

Women’s Voices Now (United States)

Japanese Association for the Right to Freedom of Speech (Japan)

African Heritage Foundation (Nigeria)

Romanian Independent Society of Human Right (Romania)

ONG Association Internationale Des Droits De L’Homme (France)

Vision GRAM International (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (Uganda)

Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems (Germany)

Public Organization “Public Advocacy” (Ukraine)

Association un Enfant Un Cartable du Burkina Faso (Burkina Faso)

International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization (United States)

Yayasan Pendidikan Indonesia Wira Tata Buana (Indonesia)

Godwin Osung International Foundation Inc. (Nigeria)

Centre for Youth and Literacy Development (Ghana)

Hape Development and Welfare Association (Pakistan)

Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience (France)

Women Educators Association of Nigeria (Nigeria)

Chia Funkuin Foundation (Cameroon)

Save the Climate (DRC)

Association pour le Développement Culturel (Chad)

Business Innovation Research Development (France)

World Organization of Building (Canada)

Amis de l’Afrique Francophone (Benin)

Observatorio Nacional De Seguranca Viaria (Brazil)

Organization Earth (Greece)

GreenPlanet (India)

Foundation of International Servant Leadership Exchange Association (South Korea)

European Union for Jewish Students (Belgium)

Association of Christian Counselors of Nigeria (Nigeria)

Fudnação Antonio Meneghetti (Brazil)

Shola Mese Foundation (Nigeria)

Ideal World Foundation President (Ghana)

Groupe d’économie solidaire du Québec (Canada)

Haiti Cholera Research Funding Foundation Inc. USA (United States)

Future Hope International (Ghana)

Les œuvres sociales pour les actions de développement (DRC)

Festival de Théâtre pour la Santé (Togo)

Ingénieurs du Monde (France)

Association de Solidarite d’Aide et Action Mali (Mali)

International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (United States)

Somali Help-Age Association (Somalia)

Kuchlak Welfare society Balochistan (Pakistan)

Kathak Academy (Bangladesh)

Moorish Holy Temple of Science (United States)

Safe Society (India)

Conglomeration of Bengal’s Hotel Owners (India)

World Kabaddi Federation (India)

African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organization (Rwanda)

Amis des Étrangers au Togo (Togo)

Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, Inc. (United States)

Association pour la Défense des droits, de développement durable et du Bien-Etre Familial (Rwanda)

Project 1948 (Bosnia)

United Nations Watch (Switzerland)

Les Amis du Projet Imagine (France)

Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (EMI) (Philippines)

Coupe de Pouce (DRC)

ONG Credo Action (Togo)

Noahide Institute (United States)

Ekta Welfare Society (India)

Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (Nigeria)

Association Build Africa (Cameroon)

Update: ALLMEP joins PCHR, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch in a renewed call for their immediate release from nearly six months in detention. #FreeRamiAman Read more: English – https://pchrgaza.org/en/?p=15059Arabic – https://www.pchrgaza.org/ar/?p=19615

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Filed under Hamas, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian

ICRC building on the hill

International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva

There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.

The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.

The second is the internal political occupation.  Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.

I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.

ICRC Museum

ICRC Museum Entrance — Geneva

Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:

How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian.  Have a listen.

A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Occupation, Politics, United Nations, Video

Palestinian Struggles for Rights and a Political End-Game

The status quo in Palestine & Israel is an interminable nightmare for Palestinians living under military occupation for 70+ years, and a shameful failure of the human rights framework adopted and promoted during that same time.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

The Israeli declaration of independence in May 1948 was the Palestinians’ Nakba (disaster, catastrophe).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) was (is?) the world’s beacon of hope, an aspiration for a better life for every person.

 

Our failure (the international community’s failure) to secure a just and lasting resolution in Palestine & Israel cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten. It’s an indictment upon all of us.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American living in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, captured a succinct history of the military occupation and the current struggle when he spoke with his daughter. (He shares that beginning at 18:50).

How does the unbearable status quo change?

In reality, the status quo is bearable to Israel and that government has no incentive to change it.

In reality, the international human rights regime is impotent and won’t change the status quo.

In reality, the U.S. is a hindrance, not a facilitator, to ending the status quo.

In reality, the Palestinian political leaders (Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah) have proven themselves to be incapable of rising to the challenge and have not earned the respect and recognition from the Palestinian people they purport to represent.

There are individuals within Palestine and Israel who are asking and answering that question: how does the unbearable status quo change?

Jeff Halper, an American Jew who has lived most of his adult life in Israel, thinks the two state solution is no longer feasible. He and his compatriots are currently traveling around the world to build support for the One Democratic State program.

Sam Bahour frames the question differently. It’s not a matter of two states or one state, but a matter of political and individual rights in either case. What Sam fears is that more time will be lost (time measured in decades) as people and governments negotiate territorial jurisdictions while the rights of Palestinians continue to take a back-seat in those discussions. Sam writes:

We must get political. Civil society must build the necessary alliances to bring Palestinian rights to the forefront of the international agenda on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. Today, we have no choice but to accept the apartheid one-state reality that we are living in now, and keep the two-state door open, while simultaneously bringing the issue of rights to the forefront of our demands. Our strongest ally is international civil society, but we cannot stop at civil society; it would be stopping short of affecting change. Instead we must leverage the widespread support of civil society in all corners of the world to get states to act, politically and otherwise, to support our just and internationally aligned struggle for freedom and independence.

In May 2016, Mr. Bahour spelled out the dangers and opportunities available to the Palestinian civil society in changing the status quo.  (The paper is available here.) I hope the next generation of Palestinian leaders (whoever and wherever they may be) will read the paper.

In this paper, I will argue that a rights-based approach is the most conducive one to the current Palestinian national agenda and that a political end-game cannot be open-ended. Moreover, I will also argue that the struggle for national self-determination cannot come at the expense of the struggle for rights – and vice versa. I view these two processes as simultaneous dynamics: one process focuses on the rights of the individual (political, human and civil rights), while the second focuses on the rights of the nation (national rights, specifically self-determination). My argument is based on the mutuality of these two processes: the ‘individual’ sphere centered on rights, and the ‘national’ sphere focused on independence.

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Filed under Israel, Nakba, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

Prisoners are COVID-19 sitting ducks

A fact of life in this COVID-19 world is that prisoners sitting behind bars are some of the most vulnerable potential victims of this deadly virus.  In the U.S., the highest number of COVID-19 related cases in the courts today are petitions by prisoners seeking release from confinement. Prisons are Super-Spreaders of the coronavirus. In response, some states and local governments have released prisoners, (check the status of these actions).

Israeli prisons house both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners.  “Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” human rights experts say.

I’m sending the following U.N. press release to Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Debra Haaland (D-NM) because McCollum has demonstrated her concern about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons (see, H.R. 2407) and Haaland is my Congresswoman from New Mexico. I want them both to know what the human rights experts are warning.

GENEVA (24 April 2020) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Israel not to discriminate against thousands of Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19 and to release the most vulnerable – particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails. They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” said the experts.

“Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” they added.

The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention. “Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”

They noted that family visits have been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees. “It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits.”

The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem. In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors.

“It is inconceivable that, in the current conditions, especially in light of the lack of testing kits and other equipment, Israel would undermine existing efforts to ensure that a larger portion of the Palestinian population is tested. Such efforts are especially needed when recent data suggests that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in occupied East Jerusalem,” they noted.

Palestinians under occupation, as a protected population under international humanitarian law, should have equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination. “Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure protection, prevention and treatment of all is critical. Such acts as raiding Palestinian clinics can only undermine such efforts,” the expert said.

(*) The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, United Nations

Relay Run for Refugees

9e28d89a-a8b9-11e9-ab55-0ad9752bc3e6

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is the U.N. agency created shortly after Palestine was divided in 1948. UNRWA’s mandate was to specifically address the needs of the Palestinians uprooted from their homes, businesses and communities. Some were forcibly removed by the Jewish Zionists, some were threatened and fled, and some were butchered when they didn’t flee soon enough (Deir Yassin massacre).

When UNRWA began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 – 7 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.  The common denominator among all of the refugees is that they are waiting to return to their communities. To this day, many Palestinian refugees still have the keys to their homes located in present-day Israel.

Nakba 2

It’s often claimed that the refugees left voluntarily but the factual record doesn’t support that contention. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) provides a very good summary of what happened in 1948 and the rights of the refugees today.

Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were displaced is well established in international law. The first source of support for Palestinian refugees’ claims to a right of return is U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) Of December 1948, paragraph 11, in which the U.N. General Assembly,

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation…”

Since 1949, this resolution together with UNSC Res. 242 and 338 have been regularly reaffirmed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Loss of LandUNRWA provides education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for millions of Palestinian refugees, but Trump claims the agency is a failure and unsustainable, citing the growing number of refugees. Human rights lawyer, Francesca P. Albanese, wrote a very good monograph about the challenges confronting UNRWA, but we know Trump won’t be bothered with the facts. I hope members of Congress will take time to read it. (Available here.)

September 20-25, 2019, UNRWA-USA is hosting a relay-run that urges the U.S. government to put humanitarian assistance ahead of politics and back in line with American values. Partnering with Right to Movement, UNRWA-USA will bring a group of runners and refugees from Palestine to relay run down the East Coast to deliver a message that UNRWA needs America’s investment. The relay will begin on Friday, September 20 in New York City at the start of the UN General Assembly and the runners will make stops along the East Coast to share stories at community events hosted by like-minded partners and collect support for UNRWA’s humanitarian programs and services for Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

Relay itinerary:

-9/20: relay kicks off in New York City
-9/21: run from New York to Clifton, New Jersey
-9/22: run from New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
-9/23: run from Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware
-9/24: run from Delaware to Baltimore, Maryland
-9/25: run from Maryland to Washington DC

Please consider supporting these runners and UNRWA with a donation that represents your values and concern for Palestinian refugees.  Check out the link for online donations and more information.

 

 

 

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Filed under Nakba, People, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

UN Special Rapporteur urges Israel be held accountable

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

The community of nations should start using some of the legal sticks available in its basket to push the State of Israel into ending the occupation of Palestine.  That’s the bottom line according to the U.N. Special Rapporteur who is calling for global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.

Professor S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, is no newbie to Israel’s occupation. As the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, he asked  — When is enough, enough under international law?  He answered it in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017. I summarized his report here.

In the 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk opened a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He made the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and called on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

The next year, EJIL: Talk! …. the Blog of the European Journal of International Law published Professor Lynk’s commentary where he urged the international legal community to consider whether or not Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine has crossed some legal red line, resulting in an illegal occupation. Professor Lynk posited a 4-part test to determine the answer. His commentary was reprinted on my blog here.

The Great MarchIn the Spring of 2018, when Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great Return March and protested at the fence line between Israel and Gaza, Israel responded with lethal force. Lynk said the killings reflected a “blatant excessive use of force by Israel” and likened them to “an eye for an eyelash.” The protesters appeared to pose no credible threat to Israeli military forces on the Israeli side. Under humanitarian law, he said, the killing of unarmed demonstrators could amount to a war crime, and he added that “impunity for these actions is not an option.” (I wrote about that here.)

Although Professor Ilan Pappe wants the world to jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonization” in the context of Israel – Palestine, Professor Lynk has taken a different tack. He recommends that the U.N. declare the occupation illegal. See more about that here.

In March 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry issued its findings and recommendations on the deadly protests in Gaza. Professor Lynk agreed and warned that —

As the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” on 30 March 2019 draws closer, and in view of the ever-deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over possible rising levels of violence if no firm action was taken to pursue accountability and justice. “Continuing to suffocate Gaza is a blot on the world’s conscience and a recipe for more bloodshed,” Lynk said. “Restoring Gaza and ensuring justice and accountability would give the region hope that a better Middle East is possible.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

For many years, Palestinians and human rights activists have been beating the accountability drum urging the world to hold Israel accountable for its responsibilities as an occupier and its flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Beyond the many non-binding resolutions at the U.N. over the years, there has been no credible and sustained effort to hold Israel accountable. (The U.S. is a very big reason why the U.N. has failed — but that’s for another blog post.)

2013-05-05-21-01-541On his most recent tour to the Middle East, Professor Lynk held meetings in Jordan because Israel refuses to allow him to visit Palestine. He believes that unless Israel is pressured to do the right thing, it will continue to deepen and further entrench the occupation.

Professor Lynk recommends that the UN members should consider everything from cutting cultural ties with Israel to suspending its membership in the world body.

He emphasized the role of the EU, which accounts for some 40 percent of Israel’s external trade and could make the flow of Israeli goods and services to the 28-nation bloc contingent on policy shifts that help Palestinians.

Furthermore, Lynk urges the speedy publication of a long-awaited blacklist of Israeli and international companies that profit from operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. He also wants prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to hasten its preliminary investigation of allegations of rights abuses by Israel and Hamas on Palestinian territory, which began in 2015.

Although Professor Lynk’s role as UN Special Rapporteur carries no enforcement power or authority, he’s certainly using his responsibility to examine and report on the occupation to the fullest extent possible. Now civil society and solidarity activists must amplify his call for accountability. 

 

Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

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Filed under Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations

Cognitive dissonance at the United Nations

Cognitive dissonance — “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. … For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

I may have a couple of examples of cognitive dissonance from today’s (3/18/2019) UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

COI_Commissioners_HP

Legal experts and delegates from around the world all said in unison “Israel must be held accountable for its gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory” (behavior) but they know that Israel has never been held accountable in the past 51 years of occupation (cognition) despite annual demands for accountability. Furthermore, there are no discernible plans to hold Israel accountable at the international level.

Another example might be the Israeli supporters and cheerleaders demonstrating outside of the United Nations.

They condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council  for its criticism and “bias” against Israel while holding the State of Israel up as the paragon of virtue (behavior) although they must know that Israeli military sharpshooters have killed nearly 200 Palestinian protesters since the #GreatReturnMarch began in March 2018, and there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that threatens the lives of 2,000,000 Palestinians (cognition).

Maybe the UN Human Rights Council really believes that the State of Israel can be held accountable, although there’s no objective evidence to support that belief.

Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath

Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)

And maybe Israeli supporters really believe that Israel is a victim unfairly targeted by the rest of the world and the Palestinians threaten their existence — a true David and Goliath story — but there’s no objective evidence to support that belief either.

Israel is the occupier with a first-world military.  Palestinians have some rockets that might sputter over Tel Aviv until the Iron Dome intercepts them.

Israel has a first-rate economy, a technology giant, and is not hurting for job growth. Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing the highest unemployment in the world (54%) and high food insecurity (68%) due to Israel’s 12 year blockade.  The report released today by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry is a fact-filled compilation of the tragic events surrounding the #GreatReturnMarch protests, not speculation or conjecture.

Who is David and who is Goliath?

I suspect each side will continue this charade for years to come. Israel isn’t motivated to change the status quo (end the occupation) because it believes the benefits of the occupation accrue to Israel.

I’ll hazard a guess that the occupation will end when there’s a magical convergence of three elements:

The United Nations regains its credibility and steps in forcibly to take action to end the occupation (legal, economic, or maybe something else).

The Palestinians manage to change the dominant narrative that exists today (which is that Israel is a victim and the Palestinians are terrorists wanting to destroy Israel).

Advocates and activists on both sides are willing to sit down and listen to each other.

Selfie at the park

It happened to me tonight when a 24-year old man from Brussels came up to me at the hostel in Geneva and wanted to talk about the UN Watch protest he attended today in solidarity with Israel. He asked sincere questions because he overheard me talking about Gaza, and listened deeply to my responses. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything but we shared a common concern about climate change, and he now knows the environmental engineering students in Gaza are also concerned about climate change.

Dr. Tarek Loubani (a Canadian physician) spoke at the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th session today. Here’s what he said:

Thank you, Madam Vice President,

I am here with Dr. Mahmoud Matar on behalf of our colleagues from the hospitals of Gaza. I am an emergency physician in Canada and Gaza and associate professor of Medicine at Western University in Canada.tarek.loubani

On 14 May 2018, I was at the protests delivering trauma care on the field. I saw only peaceful protesters, and none posed any threat to the soldiers. When protestors were shot, me and my team of medics would treat and evacuate them. Due to the blockade I did not have the materials or medics to care for my patients.

I was one of the 19 medics shot that day. I wish I could tell you I was in the midst of some chaos when it happened. I was not. The skies were clear, with no gas and no burning tires. I was standing among a group of medical professionals away from the main protest area wearing full hospital green uniform.

We were not close to protesters and there was no Israeli gunfire at the time. I heard a loud bang, felt an incredible pain and found myself on the ground.

I was treated, stabilized and discharged within an hour. I sewed my own legs because of the number of wounded. Like hundreds of others that day, I did not receive the care I needed. Still, I was lucky.

When I was shot, paramedic Musa Abuhassanin treated me. He was my rescuer. About an hour after, he was shot in the chest during a rescue. Musa died. Medical teams are not political actors, but humanitarians. We simply want to ensure that if people get into trouble, we’re there to help them.

Some 600 health workers have now been wounded at the protests and three killed. Thirty-nine were killed between 2008 and 2014. We are still under fire. Four paramedics were wounded last week. International law is clear on the duty to protect health workers, and to facilitate our life-saving work.

When I return to my work in Gaza, I should not worry that next year I will have to speak to you again about what I saw. I should not worry that my name will be added to the list of dead health workers doing their jobs. When you here do not act meaningfully, it is more likely that injuries and deaths to medics occur – more likely that I will be injured or killed. Madam Vice President, I ask you and members of the council to do all you can to ensure we are protected in line with international law.

 

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Demonstrators Shot in Violation of their Right to Life

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On 7 January 2018, Ahmed Abu Artema, a 34-year-old Palestinian poet and journalist, posted on Facebook the idea of a non-violent march at the separation fence, to draw attention to General Assembly resolution 194 and to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. In the post, ending #GreatMarchofReturn, he wrote, “what if 200,000 demonstrators marched peacefully and broke through the fence east of Gaza and entered a few kilometres into the lands that are ours, holding the flags of Palestine and the keys to return, accompanied by international media, and then set up tents inside and established a city there.”  The idea evolved into a movement of Palestinians. Within weeks, Abu Artema, civil society activists and other stakeholders drew up a charter of 12 principles, envisaging a national march by Palestinians of all ages, genders, political and social groups. (para. 22 and 23)

I’ve been following the #GreatReturnMarch since the beginning, watching its preparations, and studying it from the perspective of my international human rights law course that was occurring at the same time.

23472746_1518214138214284_7274524142973981851_nAn Israeli woman shared her thoughts about the protests. The New York Times adopted the Israeli framing of the protests.  The protests continued.  With grim predictability, the killing of unarmed protesters continued too.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

Throughout the summer and fall of 2018 I followed the protests and took heart when the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court warned Israel that it might be subject to prosecution for its crimes committed against the protestors.

The United Nations appointed an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate.  Predictably, Israel refused to cooperate in the investigation, and Egypt wouldn’t let the commission enter Gaza because of security concerns in the Sinai. However, in this small and interconnected world we live in, with Skype and other technology, the commission interviewed many participants in the protests, as well as families of the victims, the medical personnel in Gaza, as well as viewed much of the video documentation from the protests. COI_Commissioners_HP

The three member commission released its report and findings on February 28, 2019. The Israeli government immediately condemned it, saying that the commission was blinded by hatred,  but everyone else I’ve read has received it favorably.

It’s a short (22 pages) read and I recommend it to everyone.

Some excerpts that added to my understanding of the #GreatReturnMarch —

Israel was prepared. The protesters were not trying to take anyone by surprise.

Prior to the first demonstration, Israeli forces reinforced their positions at the fence with additional troops, including more than 100 sharpshooters. They dropped leaflets in Gaza and contacted Palestinian bus companies to warn against participation. At the demonstration sites, they strengthened the separation fence and its underground barrier (to prevent and detect cross-border tunnels), installed kilometres of barbed wire coils on the Gazan side as additional barriers, cleared vegetation on both sides, dug deep trenches on the Israeli side and erected a battery of earth mounds or berms onto which snipers were positioned for better visibility and shooting accuracy.

When the rules of engagement were challenged, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental human rights organizations challenged the application of lethal force by Israeli forces at the fence in the Israel Supreme Court, contending that the rules of engagement violated international law because they were too permissive or were being applied permissively. The Court disagreed and approved the rules of engagement, holding that “the use of potentially lethal force for the sake of dispersing a mass riot – from which an actual and imminent danger is posed to life or bodily integrity – is, in principle, permitted, subject to proving necessity and proportionality.” The Court declined to examine how the rules were applied on the ground, deferring to the internal investigations of Israeli security forces.

Ten pages of this report describe the deaths and injuries during three specific days of protest (Sections V and VI — p. 7-16)

Was Israel testing new weapons on the civilian population?

According to an international doctor working at a Gaza hospital, interviewed by the commission, “It was striking the number of extremely similar injuries; massive open wounds in the legs, with skin and muscles ‘blown out’, bones smashed to pieces, and damage to blood vessels leading to vascular injury, putting the entire limb at risk.”

COGAT holds the power of life and death – no surprise here!

In early April, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories denied exit permits for wounded demonstrators, primarily on the basis of the policy of the Minister of Defense to deny passage to any person injured during the demonstrations.  Although the Supreme Court of Israel subsequently rejected the above-mentioned blanket policy, those injured in the demonstrations continued to face significant challenges in obtaining medical treatment outside Gaza, as illustrated by the case below:

 Zakaria Bishbish (14)
On 30 May, Israeli security forces shot Zakaria, from the Maghazi refugee camp, in the back at the demonstration site in El Bureij, while he was at least 100 m from the separation fence. The gunshot perforated Zakaria’s stomach and colon, splintered his vertebrae and damaged his kidney. His family sought a two-week exit permit to seek life-saving treatment at Saint Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem, which had arranged a medical appointment for 4 June. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, however, denied the request, giving no reasons. His family then attempted to secure appointments for him in Egypt and the West Bank; the Coordinator did not respond to their requests. On 18 June, Zakaria died
of sepsis.

Will the State of Israel and/or any individuals involved in these killings be held accountable?

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Accountability needed to end excessive use of force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza, says UN expert

The following press release copied verbatim emphasizes ACCOUNTABILITY but who will hold Israel accountable?

GENEVA (5 March 2019) – The international community must take immediate and decisive action to ensure that Israel cease its violations of international law when responding to the ongoing demonstrations at the Gaza fence, a UN human rights expert said.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, welcomed the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the deadly 2018 Palestinian protests in Gaza.

The Commission, which was mandated to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, presented its findings on 28 February 2019.

“It found reasonable grounds to believe that, in all but two of the 189 fatalities investigated, the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful,” Lynk said. “Accordingly, I support the Commission’s call for accountability with respect to those who used lethal fire unlawfully, and for those who drafted and approved the rules of engagement which permitted this illegal use of lethal fire.”

Among the dead were 35 children, 3 paramedics and 2 journalists. Another 6,106 demonstrators were wounded during the demonstrations.

The Special Rapporteur noted that, since the start of 2019, Israeli security forces have continued to respond to protests along the fence with tear gas, rubber coated bullets and live ammunition. As a result, a further five children have been killed in the past two months.

One such incident saw the killing with live ammunition of two boys (aged 14 and 17) on 8 February 2019, and following the protest, the death on 12 February 2019 of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy who was hit by a tear gas canister in the head. According to human rights organisations, the three boys posed no threat to Israeli forces. More recently, on 22 February 2019, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by live ammunition during a protest east of Gaza city. 

Lynk reiterated that international human rights instruments pertaining to law enforcement provide that firearms may only be used against persons if there is an imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury. He added that, in the context of an occupation, the killings at the Gaza fence resulting from the unlawful use of force might well constitute willful killings of the protected population, which constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and potentially a war crime under the Rome Statute.

“We must ensure legal accountability and end impunity for the excessive use of force against largely peaceful Palestinian demonstrators, and the resulting arbitrary deprivation of life,” said the Special Rapporteur. “This is a grave violation of their right to life and it abrogates their guaranteed freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

Lynk also endorsed the recommendations of the Commission that the de facto authorities in Gaza failed in their duties to prevent the indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons, which caused economic damage and civilian fear in southern Israel. 

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the attention given by the Commission of Inquiry to the dire living conditions in Gaza, which have fueled the large demonstrations over the past year. He endorsed the Commission’s call for an immediate lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has repeatedly been described by recent UN Secretary-Generals as a prohibited form of collective punishment of the people of Gaza. In particular, he noted the dire impact of the blockade on the Gazan health system, which has significantly contributed to the deteriorating quality of health in the Strip. 

As the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” on 30 March 2019 draws closer, and in view of the ever-deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over possible rising levels of violence if no firm action was taken to pursue accountability and justice. “Continuing to suffocate Gaza is a blot on the world’s conscience and a recipe for more bloodshed,” Lynk said. “Restoring Gaza and ensuring justice and accountability would give the region hope that a better Middle East is possible.”  

Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 

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The gift of quiet self-reflection

I grew up in a mixed family (Christian and Jewish). As a child, I loved opening a gift each evening of Hanukkah, and then on Christmas morning, opening a whole bunch more. As a spoiled, middle-class brat, both holidays for me were all about the gifts, with a smattering of religious ceremony and reflection thrown in for good measure.

Nearly half a century later, when I was living in Gaza for a few months (2012-2013), many new friends asked me “What are you? A Christian? A Jew? Something else?” Labels help us make sense of each other, but my standard response to my inquisitors was not so simple.

After explaining my family traditions, I told my new friends that I don’t consider myself a member of any organized religion today, followed by their expressions of  astonishment or disgust. Then I would explain that I try to live my life by one simple (yet not so simple) rule — to treat others as I would want them to treat me. The Golden Rule in the Christian faith is also a bedrock principle in Judaism and Islam.

Last night I wished my Jewish family, friends and colleagues a quiet time of reflection on this first night of Hanukkah 2018. Here’s what I wrote on social media:

I believe tonight is the beginning of Chanukah. I was going to wish my Jewish family and friends a “Happy Chanukah” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be a Jew after 50 years of Israel’s military occupation. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

The responses ranged from disappointment tinged with anger, to support and agreement. (I’ve copied several below without author identification.

Wow, I have reflected on your post and am saddened. We always celebrated this holiday in the spirit of hope for humanity and kindness. None of us free from association with a country that has committed acts of brutality and sometimes barbarism. As Americans, we can point to any number of atrocities. To use the actions of a government to issue such a wish to a people, such as the Jews, is inappropriate.

And then this —

I absolutely agree [with the previous comment]. This is like asking those who observe Christmas how they feel about celebrating a holiday associated with a religon that committed the worst brutality and atrocities ever in the name of furthering its creed.

Writer #1 offered further —

We do not succeed in changing people’s hearts and minds through insulting them. I have worked on many campaigns, invested time, money, and effort to influence policies toward justice. I feel it is dangerous to say that Jews who are citizens of other countries are responsible for the Israeli government’s atrocities. The occupation needs to end, but we will not build a coalition by this approach.

And then a third writer chimed in —

I was going to wish my white American family and friends a “Merry Christmas” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be white American, with access to all of America’s privileges, after a century of U.S. imperialism from death squads in Latin America to Vietnam to drones, the NSA, and support for Saudi Arabia. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

How does that sound to you Lora? It sounds very condescending and patronizing to me. To say that, I would be setting myself above the people I’m talking to, saying “*I* have reflected on these issues and obviously you haven’t so I’m asking you to do so”.

What you said is worse because, while Americans do have some responsibility for America (to the extent that our democracy works, which is not very well), you are assigning to all Jews responsibility for Israel. I do think it’s especially important for us as American Jews to oppose what Israel is doing, because the position of American Jews plays at least some role in American policy toward Israel (though again, in practice, there is not much democratic power). But that doesn’t mean we are responsible for Israel’s actions simply because we are Jews.

hanuka1Others felt I was conflating Jews with Zionists, which I’m clearly not.  Surprisingly, no one has called me an anti-Semite, usually the default position for many who disagree with my words.

A time of reflection is what I wish — and I hope the reflection is focused on Israel’s half-century brutal and dehumanizing military occupation of the Palestinians.

Why should American Jews reflect on Israel’s actions?

  • Because Israel’s government officials have declared ad nauseum that they represent Jews worldwide, and have even invited Jews living anywhere on Planet Earth to come make their home in Israel. (That will certainly help with the “demographic threat.”)
  • Because the U.S. government has aided and abetted this 50 year occupation with the largest financial aid appropriations made to any country (most recently $38 Billion over the next 10 years). The U.S. consistently shields the State of Israel from being held accountable at the United Nations. The U.S. Congress gives Israel’s leader standing ovations when he speaks at the U.S. Capitol, and it is certainly clear that the vast majority of Congressmembers are at the beck and call of AIPAC, Israel’s lobbying organization in the U.S.
  • Because Israel’s three military campaigns against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, its 12+ years of economic, political and cultural siege on Gaza, and its deliberate killing of men, women, children, paramedics, and journalists at the #GreatReturnMarch at the fence between Israel and Gaza since March 2018, has occurred without any reprecussions, and no Israeli leaders have been held accountable. The killings will surely continue.
  • Because American Jews can and are playing a very important role in educating Congress that “Israel doesn’t speak for us” and younger American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel by greater numbers every year. Some personal reflection must have helped move these particular Jews to speak up and against the occupation.
  • Because when an American Jewish constitutent has an opinion to share about Israel with their member of Congress, I believe it carries much greater weight than my opinion (no matter how informed or eloquent I may sound.)

My Hanukkah wish casts no blame on Jews as a group or as individuals, despite what some writers above might have felt. That’s perhaps the biggest reason why my Jewish family, friends and colleagues should spend some time this Hanukkah in self-reflection on the issue I’ve raised. They may be carrying the weight of Israel’s horrific human rights abuses but they shouldn’t.  Quiet reflection may do the soul some good.

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