Tag Archives: Gaza

Stop talking about the “border”

We have a right to defend ourselves” just as any other sovereign nation, proclaims Israel’s leaders as they give the order to use lethal force against peaceful protesters on the other side of the fence with Gaza.

Whether Israel is correct depends on two things:

(1) Does international human rights law apply to these facts or international humanitarian law (rules of war)? The question has been presented to Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said the killings on Monday reflected a “blatant excessive use of force by Israel” and likened them to “an eye for an eyelash.”

Mr. Lynk said that 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.”

(2) Is the fence between Gaza and Israel an international border or a fence separating two groups of people who each claim sovereignty over their territory?

You would be excused if you erroneously thought the fence was an international border because much of the mainstream media has adopted Israel’s framing of the issue.  Israel wants us to believe it has a border with Gaza; that since its withdrawal in 2005 the Gaza Strip is no longer occupied territory; and the fence represents an inviolable demarcation between Israel and “those people we prefer to call Arabs, not Palestinians.”

If Israel’s argument was correct, then the right to defend that border might have some merit, leaving aside the important issues of “Right of Return” and method of defense.

However, we succumb to Israel’s narrative at the expense of jettisoning the law of belligerent occupation, international humanitarian law and the facts that led to the establishment of Israel 70 years ago.

israel_palestine_conflict

The current borders of the State of Israel are a result of war and of diplomatic agreements. The borders with Jordan and Egypt have been confirmed by peace treaties. The border with Lebanon resulted from the 1949 Armistice Agreement.  The borders with Syria and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have never been settled. In fact, Israeli Legislators have been passing laws to unilaterally extend Israel’s sovereignty into the West Bank, and they claim they no longer occupy the Gaza Strip. The U.N. and the international community have not recognized Israel’s unilateral pronouncements.

It’s time the mainstream media got the facts straight. Words matter.

Since the State of Israel does not have an internationally recognized border with the Palestinians in Gaza, the actions of both the Israeli military and the Palestinian protesters take on a significantly different cast.

The Palestinians are not trying to cross an inviolable border but rather exercising their Right of Return enshrined in Resolution 194 adopted by the United Nations on December 11, 1948.

The Israeli military is not protecting its sovereign border but rather killing unarmed protesters that have been caged in the world’s largest open air prison.

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The State of Israel may have superior military weapons, thanks in large measure to American taxpayers, but we should not capitulate to Israel’s false narrative.

There is no internationally recognized border between Israel and Gaza. It’s just a fence; actually two fences.  The New York Times is beginning to set the record straight. (May 16, 2018)

 

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Shooting fish in a barrel

Life is unbearable in Gaza. It’s been unlivable for years for the 2+ million Palestinians trapped there, but now it’s at the breaking point. Many (most?) feel there’s nothing to lose by going to the eastern border and facing down the Israeli marksmen who are shooting them like fish in a barrel. Today 55+ Palestinians have been killed (including a journalist, a medic and a Palestinian with no legs) and hundreds wounded for demanding their rights enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.

Less than 100 miles away in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and others are in a celebratory mood as the U.S. flag is raised over the new U.S. Embassy. They don’t even acknowledge the slaughter occurring in Gaza.

Gaza slaughter

I’ve called my two U.S. Senators (Udall and Heinrich) and Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham, demanding that they condemn the slaughter of innocent, unarmed Palestinians. I want them to join the other members of Congress who have spoken out against the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters, including: Senators Feinstein, Warren, Leahy and Sanders; as well as the following House members:

Barbara Lee (CA 13)
Alan Lowenthal (CA 47)
Lloyd Doggett (TX 35)
Hank Johnson (GA 04)
Danny Davis (IL 07)
Jan Schakowsky (IL 09)
John Yarmuth (KY 03)
Jamie Raskin (MD 08)
Keith Ellison (MN 05)
Betty McCollum (MN 04)
David Price (NC 04)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ 12)
Earl Blumenauer (OR 03)
Steve Cohen (TN 09)
Gerry Connolly (VA 11)
Peter Welch (VT 1)
Mark Pocan (WI 02)
Pramila Jayapal (WA 07).

My eyes are now focused on Udall, Heinrich and Lujan-Grisham.  I’m going to hound them until they come clean with a statement condemning Israel’s slaughter of innocents.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/269659083″>Voices of the Siege</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3079357″>The Palestine Chronicles</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Building a case for the ICC

The Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (Fatou Bensouda) warned Israel in early April that it might be subject to prosecution for the crimes committed against the protesters at the #GreatReturnMarch.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

I remind all parties that the situation in Palestine is under preliminary examination by my Office. While a preliminary examination is not an investigation, any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to my Office’s scrutiny. This applies to the events of the past weeks and to any future incident.

I am aware that the demonstrations in the Gaza Strip are planned to continue further. My Office will continue to closely watch the situation and will record any instance of incitement or resort to unlawful force. I urge all those concerned to refrain from further escalating this tragic situation.

Any person who incites or engages in acts of violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing in any other manner to the commission of crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction is liable to prosecution before the Court, with full respect for the principle of complementarity. The resort to violence must stop.

Israel clearly and boldly says it will not investigate the deaths attributed to its sharpshooters who are picking off Palestinians (young, old, men and women, and journalists) inside the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s decision not to investigate is important to note because of the principle of complementarity.

‘Complementarity’ is a fundamental principle on which the functioning of the International Criminal Court is based. Under the Rome Statute, which established the Court, the ICC can only exercise its jurisdiction where the State Party of which the accused is a national, is unable or unwilling to prosecute.

Israel, it appears, is inviting the ICC to assume jurisdiction in this case. Alhamdulillah!

Now, the ICC Prosecutor must do more than merely threaten, she must follow through with an independent investigation of the actions on both sides of the fence. The killings by IDF sharpshooters (40 dead, 5,511 wounded as of April 25) have been documented on video and there are numerous eyewitnesses whose testimony must be preserved.

I’ve been searching online for evidence of violence from the Palestinian side of the fence and haven’t found anything beyond burning tires and rocks. The protesters have been peaceful and have not posed any threat to the well-armed IDF sharpshooters.  The ICC Prosecutor’s investigation must be thorough and independent. I hope Israel will cooperate and turn over any evidence it might have regarding the protesters.

Palestinian youth are documenting what’s going on from the Gaza side of the fence, such as this piece from We Are Not Numbers.

While Israel and some Western media label Gaza Palestinians’ ongoing, six-week protest a “riot,” what visitors and participants see on the ground is completely different. The tire and (Israeli) flag burning that may seem “riotous” to some are actually carefully planned by a coordinating committee to obscure the vision of Israeli snipers (the former) and serve as a peaceful outlet for frustration and anger (the latter). And while those activities are occurring on the front lines of the border protest, the “Great Return March” (so-named because of the desire of the refugees in Gaza to return to the homes they were forced to evacuate in 1948), also is hosting many family-oriented cultural celebrations. On any given day, you may encounter women cooking Bedouin bread, young men dancing dabka and children flying kites.

“By including cultural activities in the Great Return March, we send a reminder message to the world that we will never forget our heritage and customs, which remind us of home,” says organizer Ahmed Abu Ertima. “At the same time, these cultural demonstrations show we are peaceful in the demand for our rights.”

Thousands of Gaza families take their children and head off to the border to participate in the Great Return March every day, raising the Palestinian flag and chanting the event’s motto, “We have the right to return to our ancestral land.” They sit on the ground, in sight of stolen lands just a few hundred meters away, while listening to their elders’ tales about their ancestral villages and towns.

Justice and the rule of law require that the ICC Prosecutor follow through with her investigation and prosecution.

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#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

The American Friends Service Committee organized an expert panel of witnesses to provide testimony about the current situation in Gaza as part of its Gaza Unlocked campaign. Check out the campaign here.

The expert testimony was held in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in the format similar to a formal hearing in Congress. The delegation from Indiana was invited to attend, including Vice President Pence, but they didn’t show up. Representative Andre Carson was unable to attend, but one of his staff members was able to attend in his place and he sent his regrets.

I showed up and watched the livestream testimony and Q &A that followed from my perch in the library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

The three experts were certainly very well qualified to speak about Gaza. Jehad Abu Salim is from Gaza and currently studying for his PhD at NYU.  Laila El-Haddad has lived in Gaza and written extensively about Gaza. She’s the author of Gaza Kitchen. Dr. Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They each spoke about the current conditions in Gaza as well as the political dynamics of Israel’s siege and long-term blockade on the Gaza Strip. The take-away message for me was that we must educate ourselves, our family, friends and communities, and especially our members of Congress.

Social media armchair activists are not making a difference if they stay within their bubbles and comfort zones behind the computer screens. We must get out into our communities and wake Americans up to the realities of the Israeli occupation. I hope a condensed and edited version of this testimony will be made available to help us educate others.

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Fact or fiction? #GreatReturnMarch

Yaser Murtaja

Yaser Murtaja – Palestinian journalist (killed April 6, 2018)

As the #GreatReturnMarch enters into its ninth day (of an expected 6 weeks of protest at the Gaza border), the Israeli propaganda (aka hasbara) is flying fast and furiously around the globe, almost as effectively as the Israeli military’s bullets are flying from the sharpshooters laying on their bellies on an earthen berm overlooking the protesters in Gaza.

A gullible American told me today that the “so-called peaceful protests” in Gaza are actually very violent — including balloons filled with acid and kites flying with razor blades — and Israelis have every right to defend their borders. (Sadly, I kid you not.)

While the New York Times isn’t this gullible, it’s still spouting the Israeli line that Hamas is effectively controlling the protests.  The organizers and civil society in Gaza have tried to set the record straight but with limited success given the entrenchment of the Israeli narrative.

The truth — there are burning tires, but no balloons filled with acid.

The truth — there are flags and kites, but no razor blades attached.

The truth — there are boys throwing rocks, but no guns or military weapons are present on the Gaza side of the border.

The truth — there are Israeli sharpshooters targeting and killing Palestinians in the back as they run away from the border.

The truth — there are Israeli sharpshooters targeting and killing professional journalists clearly identified as media by the vests they are wearing.

The truth — there are Palestinian families (old, young, and even a wedding party) participating in the #GreatReturnMarch on the Gaza side of the border.

The truth — there are Israeli civilians picnicking on the hill overlooking Gaza, celebrating Passover (the celebration of freedom) and watching the Palestinians demonstrating for their freedom.

Remember Yaser Murtaja, the Palestinian murdered by Israeli sharpshooters on April 6, 2018. He was trying to bring us the truth. It cost him his life.

 

 

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Leahy Law requires vetting of Israel’s gross violations of human rights

Many human rights lawyers and NGOs (here, here and here for example) believe that Israel committed gross human rights violations on Good Friday, March 30, when IDF sharpshooters killed 17 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more during the beginning of the #GreatReturnMarch.

Amnesty International called on Israel to immediately end its “heavy handed, and often lethal, suppression of Palestinian demonstrations.” Peace Now said that the casualties are “an intolerable result of a trigger-happy policy.” Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Times that while the military probably decided to use lethal force as a deterrent, “In my opinion they should have planned from the beginning to use minimal force and to prevent casualties.”

The United Nations and others have called for a credible investigation but Israel says it won’t investigate.

Even the Editorial Board of the New York Times (Israel Courts Catastrophe in Gaza Protests” – April 2, 2018) has called for an independent and transparent investigation. (I say “even” because I’ve found the NY Times editors to be highly deferential to Israel’s point of view in the past.)

Americans should be calling for an investigation too, especially given the enormous military support the U.S. provides to Israel.

US military aid to Israel

Thanks to the “Leahy amendments“, both the Department of State and Department of Defense are required to discontinue military assistance to units of foreign security forces that have engaged in “a gross violation” of human rights.

“No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 28 USC 2378d

“Of the amounts made available to the Department of Defense, none may be used for any training, equipment, or other assistance for a unit of a foreign security force if the Secretary of Defense has credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 10 USC 2249e

Amnesty International notes that the Leahy Law is a powerful, yet often overlooked tool to help prevent the U.S. government from directly arming human rights violators in the ranks of foreign security forces and to help the U.S. avoid complicity in the commission of human rights violations.  But it’s not a panacea!

In 2014, the Congressional Research Service published the “Leahy Law” Human Rights Provisions and Security Assistance: Issue Overview in 2014 available online here:

Implementation of Leahy vetting involves a complex process in the State Department and U.S. embassies overseas that determines which foreign security individuals and units are eligible to receive U.S. assistance or training.

Under the Leahy amendments, the US has reportedly cut off military assistance from security and military units in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Saint Lucia.

The Congressional Research Office continues:

The State Department and U.S. embassies worldwide have developed a system that seeks to ensure that no applicable State Department assistance or DOD-funded training is provided to units or individuals in foreign security forces who have committed any gross violations of human rights. This procedure, designed to comply with the Leahy laws, is known as “vetting” or “Leahy vetting.” Primarily a State Department responsibility with input from other agencies, Leahy vetting is a multi-step process that involves staff at U.S. embassies abroad; the State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) in Washington, DC, which is the lead State Department bureau for vetting; State Department regional bureaus; and other government agencies as required. The State Department policy provides for two separate processes, one for training and one for equipment and other non-training assistance.

Now, it’s time for Americans to raise our voices in support of human rights.

  1. Write and/or call your two senators and your member of Congress with two specific requests, and ask for follow-up on each one:

a) they should join Senator Bernie Sanders to comment publicly on recent events in Gaza;

b) they must inquire of the State Department and the Defense Department if the department’s vetting procedures have cleared or implicated Israeli military unit in the deaths and wounding of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza in the last few days.

2. Since the Leahy vetting process typically begins at the U.S. Embassy in the country where the alleged violations occurred, write the U.S. Embassy in Israel and request that they initiate a credible investigation into the shooting and killing of unarmed, peaceful Palestinian protesters on March 30, 2018 pursuant to the Leahy Law.

Ambassador David Melech Friedman

U.S. Embassy Israel

71 HaYarkon Street

Tel Aviv 6343229, Israel

Email: JerusalemACS@state.gov

3.  David M. Satterfield, Acting Assistant Secretary , Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, using this contact form for the U.S. State Department.  https://register.state.gov/contactus/contactusform

My message to Secretary Satterfield:

I’m writing as an American citizen concerned about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shooting and killing unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip on Friday, March 30.

As you know, the Leahy Law says: “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” See 28 USC 2378d

Israel has rejected calls by the United Nations and others to conduct an independent and transparent investigation. I urge you to initiate the vetting process required by the Leahy Law, to determine if the IDF has committed gross violations of human rights.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

 

 

 

 

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Final exam #GreatReturnMarch

The final exam in my International Human Rights Law course included an essay on the issue of extraterritorial human rights. I’ve copied my answer below.

#10 — Consistent with the development agenda that accompanied the establishment of the post-war Bretton Woods order, article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights referred to the need to move towards an international order that enables countries’ efforts to implement economic, social and cultural rights at home, stating that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”. Is the emergence of extraterritorial human rights obligations, which have been increasingly recognized in recent years, sufficient to ensure that this promise is fulfilled?

“Sufficient” is the operative term in this question, and the answer must be NO.

The Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted in 2011) are a very important milestone in building the “international order” envisioned in article 28, but as current events clearly demonstrate, the nations of the world have not effectively acknowledged or fulfilled their extraterritorial human rights obligations.

The Great Return March initiated by the Palestinian civil society in Gaza on March 30, 2018 illustrates the failure of Israel and other nations to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights guaranteed to everyone, including Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the fact that the State of Israel doesn’t acknowledge that it is a belligerent occupying force maintaining effective control over the Palestinians in Gaza (for the purposes of this discussion, I’m limiting the focus to Gaza and not the West Bank), the facts clearly demonstrate the contrary. The State of Israel strictly controls:

1) the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza,

2) the territorial air space, waters and land borders,

3) the electromagnetic sphere,

4) the population registry, and

5) life and death.

The Maastricht Principles (#18) spell out that a “State in belligerent occupation or that otherwise exercises effective control over territory outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of persons within that territory. A State exercising effective control over persons outside its national territory must respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights of those persons.”

For more than 10 years, the State of Israel has imposed an economic, social and cultural blockade on the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. As a result of the blockade, and three military operations which have directly targeted the civilian population and infrastructure in Gaza (2008-09, 2012 and 2014), the United Nations has reported that the Gaza Strip is expected to be unlivable by 2020. (Some would argue that the Gaza Strip is unlivable today.)

Few objective observers would argue that the Palestinians’ human rights are not being violated on a daily basis, but no one has been able to hold the State of Israel accountable under international law. No one has found any effective remedies for the Palestinians. In fact, when the United Nations General Assembly speaks with a nearly unified voice condemning Israel’s violations of international norms and laws, the United States steps in to condemn the United Nations.

In light of this history and current events, what does the principle that “All States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, both within their territories and extraterritorially” mean in practice?

What are Israel’s obligations? What obligations does the United States have as a primary financial sponsor (providing more than $3 billion to Israel every year) and supporter of Israel’s blockade and military operations? What obligations do other nations have to step in and take affirmative action to protect and fulfill the Palestinians’ human rights? Each of the three entails extraterritorial obligations. Perhaps, the answer is different for each.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Maastricht Principles, human rights treaties and international common law provide important and laudable goals but they can’t function in a vacuum. They represent the collective desires of the human community, and reflect U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s famous quote: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Human rights treaties are promises that States have made regarding the interests of individuals, as opposed to interests of the States themselves, and therefore holding States accountable for fulfilling those promises is challenging. Even more challenging is holding states accountable for protecting the human rights of people outside of their borders.

When and how can States intervene within the borders of another sovereign State to protect the human rights of individuals? Refraining from acts that may cause harm to individuals (#13 of the Maastricht Principles) in another country may be easier than taking affirmative actions, but there are serious hurdles nevertheless. For example, in the case of the U.S.’s responsibility to protect the human rights of the Palestinians in Gaza, withholding political support for Israel at the United Nations and reducing military aid to Israel might be actions that the U.S. could take unilaterally without infringing on Israel’s sovereignty, but domestic politics in the U.S. render those ideas very unlikely.

Ultimately, extraterritorial human rights obligations will gain traction when the actions of the human community leads or shames their States to do the right thing. The people must lead and the governments will follow. In the case of the Palestinians in Gaza:

1) Education – There are complex reasons for the human rights violations perpetrated by the State of Israel against the Palestinians, but it may stem from a fear that one side gains human rights at the expense of the other. Us vs. Them. Israeli society must learn that human rights are not a zero-sum game. In fact, their security is greatly enhanced when every man, woman and child within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories have secured their basic human rights. Maintaining the belligerent occupation is not only contrary to international law but impedes the security and fulfillment of many human rights that Israelis seek for themselves.

2) Communication with decision-makers – Americans have a responsibility to communicate with our leaders about the long-standing human rights violations occurring in Gaza with our government’s complicity. International human rights are strongest when they are understood viscerally at the local level. The link between the Palestinians in Gaza, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, the climate justice movement, and others, must be made clear to all because everyone’s actions to enforce human rights norms reinforces the human rights of others.

3) Changing the narrative – Israel’s hasbara has controlled public opinion in Israel and around the world for many years. Although it’s increasingly being met with skepticism, especially among the younger generation, Israel’s power and influence in controlling the narrative of the human rights violations in Gaza can even be traced back to the New York Times which refuses to denote Gaza as “occupied” since Israel removed its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005.  Palestinian voices must be given greater attention by the mainstream media if the world is going to understand the human rights issues involved in the occupation. Until the mainstream media fulfills that role, social media activists and others must elevate the Palestinian voices.

4) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – Palestinian civil society launched the BDS movement about 10 years ago, very similar to the BDS movement which toppled Apartheid South Africa. There’s little doubt that the BDS movement has gained traction in the past few years, and has had a significant impact. Israeli leaders recently passed a law to prevent BDS activists from traveling to Israel and Palestine. In December 2017, Israel’s government approved a plan setting aside $72 million to fighting the campaign to boycott Israel. Tying human rights to the State’s treasury and bottom line is helping move Israel towards recognizing and fulfilling Palestinian human rights by ending the occupation.

5) Freedom Flotillas and the Great Return March – Some people believe physical action is necessary to force States to recognize and fulfill their basic human rights. People from many different countries have joined together in several Freedom Flotillas to try to break Israel’s maritime siege, costing a number of them to lose their lives when the Israeli military boarded their boat and fired on them. On March 30, 2018, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza launched a peaceful march towards the border with Israel to highlight their determination to obtain their right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1947-48 when the State of Israel was created. On the first day of the Great Return March, 16 or 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli sharpshooters at the border.

Physical actions such as these, when combined with all of the actions described above, move world opinion and action closer to fulfilling the human rights obligations set forth in the UDHR, treaties and other formal legal mechanisms.  States will move in the right direction when individuals create the parade for them to lead.

 

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