Tag Archives: Israel

U.S. Senators tell Netanyahu to stop!

Dianne-Feinstein-with-Susiya-residents

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) with residents of the Village of Susya

I’m really amazed that U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) — my Senator — added his name, along with nine other Senators, to a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him not to destroy the Palestinian village of Susya. I haven’t seen Senator Heinrich’s support for Palestine in past years, but maybe I need to be looking closer. His signature on this letter certainly earns my appreciation.

In September 2017, I shared Rabbi Arik Ascherman’s testimony to Congress about Susya here.  Another very good summary of the history of the conflict pertaining to Susya was written by a religious Jew, Zionist and former IDF soldier — Shaiya Rothberg. Here’s the link to that Tikkun article in December 2016.

Susiya-Tent

Photo credit – Guy Butavia, The New York Review of Books – ‘I Am an Illegal Alien on My Own Land’ by David Shulman

Rothberg writes: “The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex, but Israeli policy in Susya is simple: It consists of destroying Palestinian Susya by dispossessing and expelling her residents, and in parallel building Jewish Susya, populated by Israeli Jews.

First, it is clear that this is not legitimate government. Why do we respect the authority of the state to plan our shared spaces? Because as citizens we can equally participate in the state’s decision making process and because the state is responsible for our wellbeing. But the Palestinians of Susya do not live in the State of Israel and are not Israeli citizens. They are denied any role in state decisions regarding them. And the state does not seek their wellbeing but rather to destroy their village and build a settlement for Israeli Jews in almost the same spot. This is not legitimate government but a form of organized crime. To argue that the homes of Palestinian Susya are “illegal”, because our discriminatory regime authorizes building for Jews but prohibits it for Palestinians, is a mockery of the idea of law.

Susya is a national test for Israel. I believe that anyone who cares about Israel or Judaism must help us break out of this immoral and self-destructive cycle. We need you to take a stand. Destroying Susya will cause terrible suffering, unjust and unnecessary, and endangers the lives of us all. If you care about Israel, this is the time to raise your voice in protest – and wake up your community to do the same – before our bulldozers are sent to destroy the homes of the defenseless residents of Palestinian Susya.”

The Senators’ letter is unusually strong but until Congress is willing to make demands of Israel that carry some consequences, I fear these words won’t stop Netanyahu from carrying out his plans.

November 29, 2017

His Excellency Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We write today to urge your government not to demolish the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar. The displacement of entire communities would be an irreversible step away from a two-state solution, and we urge your government to abandon its efforts to destroy these villages.

As you know, Susiya sits atop private Palestinian land in “Area C” of the West Bank, and has existed in the South Hebron Hills since at least since the 1830s. Today, approximately 45 families—including 85 children—call Susiya their home and survive through subsistence farming and shepherding.

Khan al-Ahmar is a Bedouin community of 170 people situated east of Jerusalem and adjacent to the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It has a mosque and a local school built of recycled tires and mud, which serves more than 150 children from the surrounding area. Because of the community’s location, demolishing Khan al-Ahmar would make it increasingly difficult to establish a contiguous Palestinian state as part of any future two-state solution.

Earlier this year, we were alarmed by the public comments of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said that “work was being done to implement plans to evacuate the Palestinian villages of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills and Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim within a few months.”

Instead of forcibly evicting these communities, we encourage your government to fairly re-evaluate Susiya’s professionally-developed master plan and provide the residents of Khan al-Ahmar equal building rights. Your government’s threats to demolish these communities are particularly distressing in light of the Israeli Civil Administration’s efforts to dramatically expand settlements throughout the West Bank.

According to the Israeli non-government organization Peace Now, in 2017, Israel advanced 88 plans that include 6,742 housing units in 59 separate settlements, a 258 percent increase in the number of housing units proposed in 2016. Further, your government officially approved the construction of the new settlement of Amihai, which is in addition to the 19 settler outposts that have been retroactively legalized since 2011.

We have long championed a two-state solution as a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, your government’s efforts to forcibly evict entire Palestinian communities and expand settlements throughout the West Bank not only directly imperil a two-state solution, but we believe also endanger Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy. We urge you to change course so that you do not foreclose the possibility of establishing two states for two peoples.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Tom Carper
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator

Martin Heinrich
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

 

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Palestinian child prisoners – H.R. 4391

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

A brave Congresswoman from Minnesota (Betty McCollum) recently introduced a bill to end the Israeli military detention of Palestinian children.  H.R. 4391

GovTrack predicts it has less than a 5% chance of passing. So why would she subject herself to the inevitable vitriol from Zionists and ardent supporters of Israel with those odds?  Because real leaders don’t do what’s expedient, they do what’s right.

 

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?

Expediency asks the question – is it politic?

Vanity asks the question – is it popular?

But conscience asks the question – is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twelve other members of Congress acting from a place of conscience have cosponsored the bill as of this date. I’m going to ask my Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham to sign on.

Blumenauer, Earl [D-OR3] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Carson, André [D-IN7] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Conyers, John [D-MI13] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Davis, Danny [D-IL7] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
DeFazio, Peter [D-OR4] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Grijalva, Raúl [D-AZ3] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Gutiérrez, Luis [D-IL4] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Pingree, Chellie [D-ME1] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Pocan, Mark [D-WI2] (joined Nov 14, 2017)
Jayapal, Pramila [D-WA7] (joined Nov 15, 2017)
Johnson, Eddie [D-TX30] (joined Nov 15, 2017)
Khanna, Ro [D-CA17] (joined Nov 15, 2017)

In a world where the Rights of the Child should not be controversial, and protecting those rights should be as easy as protecting Grandma’s apple pie, the U.S. Congress will be avoiding H.R. 4391 like a hot potato.

The bill is short and reads like a homework assignment in human rights.  Share it with your member of Congress and ask where they fall on Martin Luther King, Jr’s spectrum. Are they a coward or a person of conscience?

A BILL

To require the Secretary of State to certify that United States funds do not support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children, and for other purposes.

Short title

This Act may be cited as the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.

Findings

Congress finds the following:(1) Israel ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on October 3, 1991, which states—

(A) in article 37(a), that no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(B) in article 37(b), that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(C) in article 37(c), that every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age; and

(D) in article 37(d), that [e]very child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

(2) In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are two separate legal systems, with Israeli military law imposed on Palestinians and Israeli civilian law applied to Israeli settlers.

(3) The Israeli military detains around 500 to 700 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 each year and prosecutes them before a military court system that lacks basic and fundamental guarantees of due process in violation of international standards.

(4) Approximately 2,700,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank, of which around 47 percent are children under the age of 18, who live under military occupation, the constant fear of arrest, detention, and violence by the Israeli military, and the threat of recruitment by armed groups.

(5) Since 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system.

(6) Children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted in Israeli military courts. However, Israeli military forces detain children under the age of 12 and question them, for several hours, before releasing them to their families or to Palestinian authorities.

(7) Human Rights Watch documented, in a July 2015 report titled Israel: Security Forces Abuse Palestinian Children, that such detentions also included the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation on children between the ages of 11 and 15 years.

(8) The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concluded, in a February 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention,that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized through­out the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.

(9) The 2013 UNICEF report further determines that the Israeli system of military detention of Palestinian children profoundly deviates from international norms, stating that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.

(10) UNICEF also released reports in October 2013 and February 2015 noting that Israeli authorities have, since March 2013, issued new military orders and taken steps to reinforce existing military and police standard operating procedures relating to the detention of Palestinian children. However, the reports still found continued and persistent evidence of ill-treatment of Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces.

(11) In 2013, the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories (Annual Report) published by the Department of State noted that Israeli security services continued to abuse, and in some cases torture minors, frequently arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing, in order to coerce confessions. The torture tactics used included threats, intimidation, long-term handcuffing, beatings, and solitary confinement.

(12) The 2013 Annual Report also stated that signed confessions by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew, a language most could not read, continued to be used as evidence against them in Israeli military courts.

(13) The 2016 Annual Report noted a significant increase in detentions of minors in 2016, and that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew. It also highlighted the renewed use of administrative detention against Palestinians, including children, a practice in which a detainee may be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, by the order of a military commander or other government official.

(14) The nongovernmental organization Defense for Children International Palestine collected affidavits from 429 West Bank children who were detained between 2012 and 2015, and concluded that—

(A) three-quarters of the children endured physical violence following arrest;

(B) under Israeli military law, children do not have the right to a lawyer during interrogation;

(C) 97 percent of the children did not have a parent present during their interrogation;

(D) 84 percent of the children were not properly informed of their rights by Israeli police;

(E) interrogators used stress positions, threats of violence, and isolation to coerce confessions from detained children; and

(F) 66 children were held in pre-trial, pre-charge isolation for interrogation purposes for an average period of 13 days.

(15) Amendments to Israeli military law concerning the detention of Palestinian children have had little to no impact on the treatment of children during the first 24 to 48 hours after an arrest, when the majority of their ill-treatment occurs.

(16) In 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, reviewed Israel’s compliance with the Convention and expressed serious concern regarding allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children during arrest, interrogation, and detention.

(17) In 2013, the Committee declared that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces continue to be systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture and that Israel had fully disregarded the previous recommendations of the Committee to comply with international law.

Purpose

The purpose of this Act is to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinian children and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds shall not be used to support the military detention of Palestinian children.

Sense of Congress

It is the sense of Congress that the detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in a military court system by the Government of Israel—

(1) violates international law and internationally recognized standards of human rights;
(2) is contrary to the values of the American people and the efforts of the United States to support equality, human rights, and dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis;
(3) undermines efforts by the United States to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians; and
(4) should be terminated and replaced with a juvenile justice system in which Israeli authorities do not discriminate between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children and that adheres to internationally recognized standards of human rights and obligations.

Statement of policy

It is the policy of the United States not to support the military detention of Palestinian children, a practice that results in widespread and systematic human rights violations against Palestinian child detainees and is inconsistent with the values of the United States.

Prohibition on United States funds to support military detention of Palestinian children

(a) Prohibition

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds authorized to be appropriated for assistance to Israel may be used to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law or to support the use against Palestinian children of any of the following practices:

(1) Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
(2) Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions.
(3) Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse.
(4) Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement.
(5) Administrative detention, as described in section 2(13).
(6) Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations.
(7) Confessions obtained by force or coercion.
(b) Certification

Not later than October 15, 2018, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate—

(1) a certification that none of the funds obligated or expended in the previous fiscal year for assistance to the Government of Israel have been used by such Government to support personnel, training, lethal materials, equipment, facilities, logistics, transportation or any other activity that supports or is associated with any of the activities prohibited under subsection (a); or
(2) if the Secretary cannot make such a certification, a report describing in detail the amount of such funds used by the Government of Israel in violation of subsection (a) and each activity supported by such funds.
(c) Additional matter in existing reports

The Secretary of State shall include, in each report required under section 116 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151n), a description of the nature and extent of detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli military forces or police in violation of international humanitarian law.

Olive harvest and children

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When is “anti-Semitism” NOT anti-Semitism?

antisemitism

The program on Baltimore’s WYPR caught my attention because it was focused on a discussion about anti-Semitism with Ira Forman, a distinguished visiting professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the University’s Center for Jewish Civilization. Professor Forman, who has worked for more than forty years as a leading advocate for Jewish culture and community, is currently teaching a course in Contemporary Anti-Semitism. Previously, he spent four years as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

This 40 minute program is worth a listen, here.

I thought the host, Tom Hall, did a great job with the discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) but, unfortunately, his guest’s mischaracterization of anti-Semitism went unchallenged. I wrote him a letter to point out the problem.

Dear Mr. Hall,

I listened to your program today with Ira Forman and was pleased with your discussion about BDS.
However, Mr. Forman was incorrect with his 3Ds (Delegitimize, Demonize, Double Standards) to describe an anti-Semite.
Wikipedia notes that “the 3D Test of Antisemitism is a set of criteria put forth by Natan Sharansky to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The three Ds stand for Delegitimization [of Israel], Demonization [of Israel], and [subjecting Israel to] Double standards, each of which, according to the test, indicates antisemitism. It was published in the Jewish Political Studies Review in 2004. The test is intended to draw the line between legitimate criticism towards the State of Israel, its actions and policies, and non-legitimate criticism that becomes antisemitic.”
Although the 3D test has been adopted by the State Department and has gained wide acceptance among Zionists and Israel lobbyists, it is a recent aberration which the State of Israel has been vigorously pushing.
The correct definition of anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.”
The clear danger of the Israeli government’s definition is the chilling impact it has on legitimate free speech. The potential sting of being called an anti-Semite silences many (most?) people who have legitimate criticisms about Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestine.
Shielding the State of Israel from criticism has been a major foreign policy objective for its government for decades, but recent efforts have intensified in response to the growing success of the BDS movement.
I hope there will be an opportunity to correct the record on your program sometime in the future.
Sincerely,
Lora Lucero

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Dystopia

A question for my friends who are history buffs.

Were there any journalists in Germany in the 1930s writing about the shocking and disgusting actions occurring in the concentration camps? I’m talking about contemporaneous reporting that provided the truth behind the barbwired fences.

Dachau

Inmates in Dachau line up. This photograph was on the cover of the Munchen Illustierte Press edition on July 16, 1933. Photo credit: USHMM Photo Arhives

Although I found this photo published in 1933, my hunch is that the German people were not informed about the atrocities occurring in the camps — the medical experimentation, the severe deprivations of food and other basics of life, and the gas chambers.  The Germans didn’t know about all of that, right?  (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

In Israel today, thanks to journalists like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, the average Israeli has access to the brutal facts about Israel’s occupation and 10+ years blockade of Gaza, the largest open air prison on the planet.

Although Israel has prevented Israeli journalists from entering Gaza for many years, reports are getting out, like this report [Gaza Kids Live in Hell: A Psychologist Tells of Rampant Sexual Abuse, Drugs and Despair] from Israeli psychologist, Mohammed Mansour.

Mohammed Mansour

Mohammed Mansour, a psychologist who volunteers in Gaza with Physicians for Human Rights. Tomer Appelbaum – Hareetz

Gideon Levy writes: Mansour describes dystopia, a society that is falling apart. Devastation. Gazans demonstrate astonishing endurance, spirit and solidarity in their families, villages, neighborhoods and camps, after all the plagues they have suffered: refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees and great-grandchildren of refugees, are falling apart.

Mansour described an all-out struggle for survival, with addiction to painkillers as the last refuge. Nothing is left of the Gaza we knew. Nothing reminds us of the Gaza that we loved. “It will be difficult to restore Gaza’s humanity. Gaza is hell,” says Mansour.

This is a man-made, evil catastrophe just as Hitler’s concentration camps were …. there is no difference, and no justification.

Maybe Germans didn’t know what their leader was doing to an entire generation of Jews secreted away in those concentration camps. The Israelis today have no excuse for the state’s inhumane cruelty perpetrated on several generations of Palestinians. History will judge Israel, its leaders and its people harshly, as it should.

 

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Israel has crossed the red line – no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian Territories

When is enough, enough under international law?

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

That’s the question that the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, S. Michael Lynk, asked and answered in his report to the U.N. General Assembly in October 2017.

Lynk is a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert. His words should carry some umpf! in the international community, if not with Israeli officials who have persistently refused to accept more than 40 UN resolutions over the past half century pertaining to the occupied territories.

To summarize this 22 page report, which should be required reading for everyone interested in the future of Israel and Palestine, Professor Lynk is opening a new (legal) chapter in Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

He is making the case for recognizing Israel as an illegal occupier, and calling on the international community to use all of the tools in its toolbox to end this illegal occupation.

Israel denies that it’s occupying Palestine, despite the contrary opinion of the rest of the world. (Israeli deputy foreign minister denies Palestinians live under occupation: ‘This is Judea and Samaria’)

Loss of Land

“The Israeli occupation has become a legal and humanitarian oxymoron: an occupation without end,” Professor Lynk writes. It is the longest-running military occupation in the modern world.

The inability to end the Israeli occupation has been an abject failure of international diplomacy, a darkening stain on the efficacy of international law and the source of multiple broken promises to the Palestinian people. Nor does the prolongation of this occupation serve the people of Israel, for it corrodes their society and their public institutions by entangling them in their government’s drive to foreclose a viable and just solution to the half-century of occupation and the century-long conflict, and makes them the benefactors — unwittingly or not — of a profoundly unequal and unjust relationship.

How should we characterize this occupation in 2017? Professor Lynk proposes that Israel is no longer the lawful occupant of the Palestinian territory, but has now crossed a red line and has become the unlawful occupier. His argument goes like this:

  1. “Two decades into the 21st century, the norm that guides our global community is that people are citizens, not subjects, of the state that rules them. … Colonialism, occupation and other forms of alien rule are very much the exception to this norm.”
  2. The right of self-determination, and economic, social and cultural rights — are to be interpreted broadly, while the exceptions to these fundamental rights — such as military necessity, significant threats to national security or public emergencies — are to be interpreted narrowly.
  3. Three core purposes of modern international humanitarian law related to foreign military occupation are: (a) closely regulate the occupation to ensure that the territory achieves, or is restored to, a state of sovereignty, (b) prevent the territory from becoming a fruit of conquest, and (c) safeguard the protected people under occupation.
  4. The International Court of Justice has affirmed that international human rights law continues to apply in times of conflict and throughout an occupation.
  5. The right to self-determination is a right that applies to everyone living under occupation, and the court has specifically recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
  6. Israel has occupied the Palestinian territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza – since June 1967, and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in full. 
  7. Palestinians are “protected persons” under international humanitarian law and are entitled to the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community has widely rejected Israel’s assertions that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply.

So what should the international community do?

Professor Lynk proposes that the U.N. General Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of the legality of the occupation.

ICJ

International Court of Justice

Courts and lawyers favor tradition and precedent (stare decisis), and Professor Lynk finds ample precedent in the ICJ’s 1971 Namibia opinion, where the court decided that South Africa’s continued presence in the territory of Namibia was illegal.  (On a side note, I’ve just completed a couple of online courses in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, and really appreciate how Professor Lynk’s report connects all of the dots that I’ve just learned.)

Application of the Legality Test to Israel’s Occupation

The ICJ should consider four elements, Professor Lynk writes, to determine if Israel is now an illegal occupying force.

  1. The prohibition against annexation: Israeli officials have made their intentions crystal clear. There are now 210,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem, and another 400,000 settlers live in approximately 225 settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has been establishing its “facts on the ground” for a de facto annexation of the occupied lands that belong to the Palestinian people under international law. “The settlers live under Israeli law in Israeli-only settlements, drive on an Israeli-only road system, and benefit greatly from the enormous sums of public money spent by Israel on entrenching and expanding the settlements. … What country would invest so heavily over so many years to establish many immutable facts on the ground in an occupied territory if it did not intend to remain permanently?”
  2. Occupations must be temporary, and not indefinite or permanent. “Modern occupations that have broadly adhered to the strict principles concerning temporariness, non-annexation, trusteeship and good faith have not exceed 10 years, including the American occupation of Japan, the Allied occupation of western Germany and the American-led coalition’s occupation of Iraq.” Israel’s occupation is 50 years old. “The only credible explanation for Israel’s continuation of the occupation and its thickening of the settlement regime is to enshrine its sovereign claim over part or all of the Palestinian territory, a colonial ambition par excellence.”
  3. The Best Interest/Trust Principle. “Under international law, Israel is required to administer the occupied Palestinian territory in the best interests of the Palestinian people, but the social and economic impact of the occupation on the Palestinians in the occupied territory, which had always been disadvantageous, has become increasingly dire in recent years.” Professor Lynk’s report spells out in no uncertain terms how Israel has taken advantage of the natural resources, and ruled the Palestinian Territory as an internal colony, to create a “strangled economy, mounting impoverishmet, daily impositions and indignities, and receding hope for a reversal of fortune in the foreseeable future.”
  4. Good Faith. Professor Lynk says that Israel has not been acting in good faith because it hasn’t complied with the 3 elements above, and it hasn’t complied with specific directions issued by the United Nations pertaining to the occupation. The enumeration of Israel’s noncompliance with international law is damning and shocking when it’s all spelled out in one place. Israel (and it’s best friend the United States Congress) might argue that the United Nations is bias against Israel, but what Israel really means is that the community of nations has not accepted Israel’s blatant attempt to unilaterally rewrite international law to suit its own self-interest.
checkpoint

Israeli checkpoint for Palestinians posted by Husam Jubran on Facebook Nov. 2, 2017

Professor Lynk’s concluding observation is an alarm bell that every lawyer should take seriously, regardless of personal opinions about Israel / Palestine and the occupation.

International law is the promise that states make to one another, and to their people, that rights will be respected, protections will be honoured, agreements and obligations will be satisfied, and peace and justice will be pursued. It is a tribute to the international community that it has sustained this vision of international law throughout its supervision of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.

But it is no tribute that — as the occupation deepened, as the occupier’s intentions became crystal clear, and as its defiance grew — the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process.

The challenge now facing the international community … is to devise and employ the appropriate diplomatic and legal steps that, measure by measure, would completely and fully end the occupation.

 

 

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Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Settlers, Spiritual - Religion, US Policy, Video

Accountability for war crimes? ICC

When and how will Israel be held accountable for war crimes committed during its 51-day Operation Protective Edge in 2014?  The operation killed 2,251 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, including 299 women and 551 children. The operation also caused massive destruction to 18,000 homes and other civilian property, including hospitals and vital infrastructure.

Most of the destruction and damage has not been repaired in the past three years. Neither has any serious investigation been conducted.

Two legal NGOs in Israel — Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Adalah — have been absolute bull dogs, pushing the Israeli authorities to comply with their responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL). For the past three years, they have submitted petitions, complaints, claims and every manner of documentation to press for justice for the victims of Operation Protective Edge. To no avail.

IHL and IHRL require Israel to investigate allegations of suspected violations committed during Operation Protective Edge, with independence, impartiality, effectiveness, promptness and transparency and to prosecute those allegedly responsible.

But as with its inquiries into past military operations, Israel has delayed, denied, deflected and dismissed every attempt by the United Nations and others to come clean with its actions in Operation Protective Edge.

That hasn’t stopped Israeli soldiers from talking about their experience in Operation Protective Edge.

On August 28, 2017, Al-Mezan and Adalah published their 9-page report documenting their attempts to hold Israel accountable — Gaza 3 Years On: Impunity over accountability Israel’s unwillingness to investigate violations of international law
in the Gaza Strip. No surprises here.

The cases concerned severe events that resulted in the killing and serious injury of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and the massive destruction of civilian objects. The evidence in these cases suggested that the attacks were carried out in violation of the principles of distinction and proportionality, which could amount to grave breaches of IHL. These cases mostly concerned incidents of:
 Direct attacks on homes causing many civilian deaths and injuries;
 Direct attacks on children (e.g. the four Bakr children playing on the beach and the Shuheibar children feeding pigeons on a house rooftop);
 Direct attacks on five UNRWA schools that were sheltering civilians;
 The bombing of mosques, hospitals and a shelter for people with severe disabilities;
 Attacks on civilian infrastructure and the municipality workers fixing them.

After Operation Protective Edge, Israel cynically created the Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) to improve its investigative abilities but after three years, 46.4% of the complaints filed by Adalah and Al Mezan were referred to the FFAM for examination and then closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved. 43% of the complaints remain under examination by the FFAM or received no response.

The Military Advocate General’s responses to such cases:
 Secret evidence: The materials collected by the FFAM and other intelligence materials cannot be revealed because they are classified;
 Military necessity: Certain incidents in question were undertaken based on military necessity (these arguments were written vaguely and did not include any supporting evidence);
 No non-military witnesses: The FFAM did not find any need or use in taking testimonies from non-military witnesses.

This whole exercise may seem pointless because when has Israel ever been held accountable for its violations of international law?

This time things might be different.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

The Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary investigation. (pp. 25-32) But the ICC can’t assume jurisdiction in this case if the State of Israel has an effective mechanism for investigating and prosecuting these claims. In November 2016, the Prosecutor said she would “assess information on potentially relevant national proceedings, as necessary and appropriate.”

That’s why this report from Al-Mezan and Adalah is so very important. It clearly shows that Israel is incapable and unwilling to investigate and hold itself accountable. If the Prosecutor agrees, she can recommend that the ICC take the case.

Israel needs to be held accountable, sooner rather than later. This report provides the ammunition to open the courthouse doors. Bravo Al-Mezan and Adalah!

The case of the Abu Dahrouj family provides another illustration of Israel’s unwillingness to investigate. On the night of 22 August 2014, an Israeli warplane fired two missiles at a home belonging to the Abu Dahrouj family in central Gaza. The Israeli missile strike killed five members of the Abu Dahrouj family, including two children, and wounded multiple civilians and caused extensive damage to neighboring homes. Although [Israel] acknowledged that the missile attack was carried out directly on a civilian home and did not target any combatant or military object, no investigation was opened and the case was closed without any action against those involved.

 

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, United Nations