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Doing Business with Israel: Increasingly Problematic

20 Jun

[Note: Published below is a letter prepared by the European Coordination of Committee and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) and endorsed by John Dugard, Michael Mansfield, Eric David, and myself; it urges adherence to guidelines relating to corporate and financial activity with unlawful economic activities in Israel and occupied Palestine, and is guided by principles similar to the BDS campaign; it is notable that on June 20th the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church by a close vote (310-303) voted to divest itself of $21 million dollars worth of shares in three corporations (Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar) engaged in legally and morally objectionable activities supportive of Israel's occupation of Palestine. There is a growing momentum associated with this new nonviolent militancy associated with the global solidarity movement supportive of the Palestinian struggle to gain a just peace, including realization of rights under international law. This nonviolent turn is being directly challenged by the rise of ISIS in the region that relies on unrestrained violence and promises the liberation of Palestine.]

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

On 24-26 June, 37 European companies from 11 EU Member States will travel to Israel as a part of an EU led “Mission for growth” project that aims to “promote partnerships between Israeli and European companies 
active in sectors identified as leading and developing industries in Israel.” Among Israeli companies participating in the “Mission for growth” are those deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation and apartheid policy. The previous delegation of “Mission for growth” took place on 22-23 October last year in Israel, where 97 european companies from 23 EU Member States meet with 215 Israeli companies from the different industrial sectors. In this open letter supported by Richard FalkJohn DugardMichael Mansfield and Eric David, ECCP member organisations call on the European companies to abandon their plans to be involved in the project. Letter to the participants of EU led “Mission for growth”: We, the undersigned members of ECCP – the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) – a leading network of 47 organisations, NGO’s, unions and human rights organisations from 21 European countries are writing to you about your company’s participation in the recent EU-led mission to Israel named “Mission for growth” with the stated purpose of forging business ties with Israeli companies.

We are writing to make you aware about the legal, economic and reputational consequences to your business if these deals go ahead. According to the Israeli research center, WhoProfits, Israeli participants in “Mission for growth” programme directly contribute to and are complicit in acts that are illegal under international law. For example Elbit Systems, an Israeli military company is involved in the ongoing construction of Israel’s Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.(see Annex) Recognizing these grave violations in 2009, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund divested from Elbit Systems.1 We would like to remind you that business involvement in Israel contains legal implications. According to international law as applied in the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Israel’s wall and settlements, third party states are violating their own obligations to not recognize nor render aid or assistance to these serious Israeli violations by allowing financial and economic activity with complicit entities. Since last year, the government of the Netherlands have taken the proactive step to warn companies domiciled in its territory of the legal implications of ties with Israeli companies with activities in the occupied territories. As a result, Vitens, the Netherlands’ largest water supplier, broke an agreement with Mekorot, Israel’s public water company, due to its role in plundering water from Palestinian aquifers in the West Bank.2

PGGM, the largest Dutch pension fund followed suit and divested from all Israeli banks due to “their involvement in financing Israeli settlements.”3 The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, supported by the EU and adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, explain that businesses must respect human rights and international humanitarian law. The Principles also urge states to withdraw support and not procure services from companies that persistently violate human rights.4 In September 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a report on corporate complicity related to the illegal Israeli settlements by Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The report urges states to take steps to hold businesses accountable for their participation in Israeli violations of international law and to take steps to end business involvement in illegal Israeli settlements5 In March 2013, UN Human Rights Council adopted the report of the Independent Fact Finding Mission on the Israeli settlements. The Fact Finding Mission affirmed that involvement in settlement activities falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC and may result in criminal responsibility. Almost all Israeli companies are deeply complicit, directly or indirectly, in the oppression of Palestinians including its IT sector by drawing expertise from Israel’s military complex and Israel’s manufacturing companies, some based in settlements, with distribution outlets in settlements, helping to sustain them. By participating in the project and cooperating with Israeli companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements and military industry your company would be making a political decision to become deeply complicit with Israel’s violations of international law and Israel’s oppression of Palestinian rights. As such, your company would become a legitimate target for popular boycotts, divestments, protests and sustained campaigns to penalize your involvement and causing you economic losses similar to the loses already inflicted on French-company Veolia for its involvement in the settlement enterprise and British security company G4S6. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, from which we draw our strength, has been growing at the global level since its launch in 2005 of which the Economist magazine says it “is turning mainstream.”7 The BDS movement has consistently targeted complicit Israeli and international corporations — involved in Israel’s occupation, settlements and other international law infringements — such as SodaStream, G4S, Ahava, Mekorot, Elbit, Veolia, Caterpillar, Africa Israel, all Israeli banks, among others, with significant success and enormous reputational risks8. We will therefore monitor your company for business ties with Israel and urge you to abandon potential plans to cooperate with Israeli companies violating international law and human rights. Sincerely , European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Endorsed by: Richard Falk -UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for Palestine, 2008-2014 and Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University John Dugard – Professor Emeritus, University of Leiden, Former UN Special rapporteur on the situation of Human rights in the occupied palestinian Territory Michael Mansfield – Professor of Law, President of the Haldane Society and Amicus; practising Human Rights lawyer for 45 years Eric David – Law Professor, Free University of Brussels

*****************

Annex: Israeli participants in “Mission for growth” project violating human rights and international law -

Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories – a private Israeli cosmetics corporation which operates from the occupied West Bank. Ahava is the only company which sells Dead Sea cosmetics and islocated in the occupied area of the Dead Sea. The Ahava factory and visitors’ center is located in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement, on the shore of the Dead Sea in the occupied part of the Jordan Valley and a large percentage of Ahava shares are held by two Israeli West Bank settlements.

9 – Afcon Holdings- The group engages in the design, manufacture, integration and marketing of electro-mechanical and control systems. A subsidiary of the group – Afcon Control and Automation has supplied CEIA metal detectors to Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories; such as the Hebron Machpela Cave Checkpoint, the Beit Iba checkpoint and the Erez Terminal in Gaza, as well as checkpoints in the occupied Jordan Valley. Additionally, in 2009 the Afcon has supplied services to the Jerusalem light train project, which connects the settlement neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem with the city center. The company also supplies services to the Israeli Army, Israeli prison service and the Israeli police.

10 – El-Go Team – Provider of security gates. Vehicle gates and turnstiles of the company are installed at Qalandia, Huwwara and Beit Iba checkpoints restricting the occupied Palestinian population movement in the occupied territory.

11 - Elbit Vision Systems - the company manufactured electronic surveillance systems (LORROS cameras) to the separation wall project in the Ariel section. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems.

12 – Gila satellite network- Provider of satellite communication services. Antennas of the company are installed in checkpoints across the West Bank: Azzun Atma, Beit Iba and Anata – Shu’afat refugee camp. The company has also provided the Israeli Army with the VAST (very small aperture terminal) satellite communications system. Several satellite dishes were installed on armoured personnel carriers.

13 – Netafim – A global private company of irrigation technology, which also provides services and training to farmers and agriculture companies around the world. The company provides irrigation technologies and services to the settlements’ regional council of Mount Hebron and the settlement of Maskiut. The company’s employees volunteered in the Israeli army’s combat unit Oketz. The company employs 4000 employees, owns 16 manufacturing factories in 11 states and over 27 subsidiaries and representatives in over 110 countries. - LDD Tech - provides services to gas stations in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

1 http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB125197496278482849

2 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.562769

3 https://www.pggm.nl/english/what-we-do/Documents/Statement%20PGGM%20exclusion%20Israeli%20banks.pdf

4 http://www.business-humanrights.org/UNGuidingPrinciplesPortal/TextUNGuidingPrinciples

5 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43376#.UZH-eSvWyqw

6 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-06/gates-foundation-sells-stake-in-u-k-security-company-g4s.html

7 http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21595948-israels-politicians-sound-rattled-campaign-isolate-their-country

8 http://mondoweiss.net/2014/05/barclays-downgrades-sodastream.html

9 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/ahava-dead-sea-laboratories

10 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/afcon-holdings

11 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/el-go-team

12 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/elbit-systems

13 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/gilat-satellite-networks

Obama’s Legacy: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff”

6 Jun

 

 

            So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century past, and it will be for the century to come….The question we face..is not whether America will lead but how we will lead, not just to secure our peace and prosperity but also to extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

 

                        President Barack Obama’s Commencement Address, West Point, May 22, 2014

 

            I make the poem of evil also, I commemorate that part also, I am myself just as evil as good, and my nation is…

Walt Whitman

 

 

            Cautioning against militarism at West Point President on May 22nd Obama in a speech mostly notable for its reassertion of what might be best understood as imperial nationalism of global scope declared the following: “Just because we have the best hammer [that is, military dominance] does not mean that every problem is a nail [that is be selective].” Remembering the failure of military intervention in Iraq, positive about achieving a possible diplomatic breakthrough in Iran, and burned by the paucity of results from his strongly endorsed troop surge in Afghanistan early in his presidency, Obama is reminding the graduating cadets, the future commanders of the American military organization, that leadership on the global stage should no longer be conceived as nothing more than a hard power geopolitical game. Interpreted in context, such a statement can and should be appreciated as an embrace of what some call ‘smart power’ shaping policy by a careful understanding of what will work and what will fail, that is, exhibiting a sensitivity to the limits as well as the role of military power in pursuing the American foreign policy agenda.

 

            For the wildly hostile Republicans such language is warped to justify their attack on Obama’s foreign policy as wimpy, exhibiting a declinist mentality that is partially admitted by the sleazy phrase used by the White House during the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, ‘leading from behind.’ The Republicans, resorting to their typically irresponsible hawkish opposition rhetoric, chided Obama for not proceeding to bomb Syria after alleging that they had crossed the red line in 2013 when chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta resulting in heavy civilian loss of life. From such neocon perspectives America only loses wars when is loses its nerve. From this perspective every failure of military intervention since Vietnam exhibits not the limits of hard power, but the refusal to do what it takes to achieve victory by which is meant a mixture of weaponry and fortitude. Fortunately, most often when in office the Republicans have a record of finishing the wars that Democrats start. This was what Eisenhower did in the Korean War, and Nixon in the Vietnam War. Republicans bark more often than they bite, while Democrats do the opposite.

 

            Obama’s rejection of mindless militarism is most welcome, but insufficient. Given this American record of demoralizing defeats, those on the right end of the political spectrum should feel reassured by his ultra nationalist language used to describe America’s global dominance: “Our military has no peer. America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world…our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth…Each year we grow more energy independent. From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.” Recalling the oft-quoted boast of Madeline Albright, Obama went on to insist, “So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century past, and it will be true for the century to come.”

 

            To exhibit national pride is understandable for a political leader, but the absence of any expression of national humility creates an overwhelming and deeply troubling impression of hubris, especially when the speaker heads the biggest military power in history and his country has its forces spread around the world so as to be ready to strike anywhere. We should be aware that for ancient Greeks hubris was a tragic flaw that makes the powerful complacent about their points of vulnerability and hence destined to freefall from dizzying heights to swampy depths. Such an interpretation is reinforced by Obama’s vision of the place of war making in American foreign policy: “The United States will use force, unilaterally, if necessary, when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.” What is so stunning here is the absence of any even pro forma acknowledgement of a national commitment to carry out foreign policy in a manner respectful of international law and the authority of the United Nations. Deeply disturbing is Obama’s contention that war might be the appropriate way to go if “our livelihoods are at stake,” which seems to revive the dreams of economic imperialists who seize resources and safeguard unjust enrichment from foreign resources.

 

            With words that echo those of George W. Bush, Obama admits that “[i]nternational opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our homeland and our way of life.” If America should never ask, is that true for others, for say Russia when it protects its homeland and way of life in Ukraine? To be fair, Obama does seem to qualify his unilateralism by saying that before leaping into war “we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just,” but these lofty sentiments are coupled with the glaring omission of the words “and legal.” Obama does advocate “appeals to international law” in the speech, but revealing only as one of several tools of American diplomacy that might be useful in mobilizing allies to join in multilateral recourse to military action against common adversaries.

 

            Toward the end of the speech Obama removes any ambiguity about the kind of prideful realism that he appropriates for the United States, and implicitly disallows to others, acknowledging lofty pretensions on a truly global scale: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional in not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” Are we stupid? After lauding militarism and unilateralism early in the speech only later to give this Wilsonian spin to the more self-serving meaning of American exceptionalisn the Obama language exhibits a disturbing blend of confusion and hypocrisy. Even the slightest familiarity with America’s use of force in international life over the course of recent decades, including during the Obama presidency, would lead any close observer to conclude that the only honest way to identify American exceptionalism is above all its “ability to flout international norms and the rule of law.” And not only ability, willingness as well, whenever expedient (consider global surveillance, drone warfare) from the perspective of national interests to engage in combat.

 

            As always there is in Obama’s comprehensive statements some visionary language meant to be uplifting. For instance, what he describes as the “final element in American leadership: our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.” Where exactly? In response, to the oppressive rulership of Sisi’s Egypt? In relation to the civilian population of Gaza so long victimized by Israeli collective punishment? The only plausible answer to the first of these questions is ‘where and when it suits American interests, and not otherwise.’ In fairness, could be expect otherwise in a state-centric world.

 

            There is an awkward reference in the speech to Egypt that makes a mockery of any talk about human dignity and a foreign policy responsive to the claims of justice. Obama employs a strange phrase, perhaps to convey the sense of awkwardness, by starting his explanation of policy with the words “in countries like Egypt.” Such a phrase implies that there are other such countries, which itself seems dubious. We do not receive any hints as to which countries he means to include. Possibly Obama is referring to all those states with deplorable human rights records whose leaders are guilty of crimes against humanity in relation to their own citizens, but whose orientation is favorable to the West. Obama goes on to imply some misgivings about the positive American relationship with Egypt, “we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests, from peace treaties to Israel to shared efforts against violent extremism.” And then with hypnotic indifference to the tension between words and deeds, he explains, “[s]o we have not cut off cooperation [read as military assistance] with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.” How should we deconstruct this combination of reassurances and pressures to establish democracy, the rule of law, and human rights? I would say to paraphrase Obama that this strikes me as a callous example of ‘following from behind.’

 

            On such other issues as terrorism, drones, Iran, Syria, and Ukraine Obama affirms mainstream foreign policy positions with nothing new, not daring to endorse any initiative that would break fresh ground. There were some obvious opportunities that would have created a bit of credibility for the basic claim made by Obama that America, and America alone was capable of providing the world with benevolent leadership. Surely, Obama could have proposed that Iran join in an effort to end the war-threatening atmosphere relating to Syria and in view of Western objections to Iran’s nuclear weapons p. Or suggest that Israel’s refusal to stop settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem had doomed, once and for all, any hope of a negotiated and just end to the search for peace in Palestine and Israel that would benefit both peoples instead of voicing mild disapproval and stepping to one side. Or welcome the formation of a unity government that could finally represent the Palestinian people as a whole. Or recognize the complexity of competing national claims in Ukraine, acknowledging that the West as well as Russia was responsible for escalating tensions, thereby inhibiting prospects for a mutually beneficial accommodation. Or Obama might even have chosen such a moment to revive his 2009 Prague initiative by proposing that the time had come to table a draft treaty of nuclear disarmament.

 

            Such innovative steps would have stirred excitement as well as compromise, controversy, and debate. Such moves would have at least encouraged the hope that Obama’s vision of American leadership meant something for the world beyond a watered down neoconservative global agenda. To be sure, it is less belligerent in language and policy than what was being advocated during the Bush presidency. The Obama outlook is certainly more receptive to partnership, alliances, and multilateralism in managing global affairs. Ironically, the Obama conception of American leadership is depressingly similar in some of its essential features to the commencement address given by George W. Bush at West Point twelve years earlier: We were good, they are evil. Terrorism is the main security threat. We will act as we wish when our security and vital interests are at stake. No signs of deference to international law or the UN unless it reinforces American foreign policy. When American policies are challenged, it is up to the political leadership to decide what is right and wrong, but governments that are adversaries of the West should continue to be judged and punished by international procedures, including the International Criminal Court. No humility, and no retreat from the global projection of force as an American entitlement that others welcome.

 

            Perhaps, after all Hilary Clinton was right when she taunted Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” To clarify, not the heat that Clinton meant, but the heat that would be generated if Obama made a serious attempt in these last years of his presidency to translate his visionary language into concrete policies that addressed injustices and disciplined American foreign policy choices by an acceptance of the authority of international law and the UN. One can only daydream about such a legacy for the presidency of Barack Obama. Instead rather than the legacy of forbearance that he seems determined to leave behind, summarized by his own self-professed operating logic—‘don’t do stupid stuff.’

 

Invisible Horizons of a Just Palestine/Israel Future

4 Nov

I spent last week at the United Nations, meeting with ambassadors of countries in the Middle East and presenting my final report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly as my term as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine comes to an end. My report emphasized issues relating to corporate responsibility of those companies and banks that are engaged in business relationships with the settlements. Such an emphasis seemed to strike a responsive note with many delegations as a tangible way of expressing displeasure with Israel’s continuing defiance of its international law obligations, especially in relation to the unlawful settlements being provocatively expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the very moment that the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestine Authority and the Government of Israel is being heralded as a promising development.

There are two reasons why the corporate responsibility issue seems to be an important tactic of consciousness raising and norm implementation at this stage: (1) it is a start down the slippery slope of enforcement after decades of UN initiatives confined to seemingly futile rhetorical affirmations of Israeli obligations under international law, accompanied by the hope that an enforcement momentum with UN backing is underway; (2) it is an expression of tacit support for the growing global movement of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for a just and sustainable peace agreement, and specifically, it reinforces the claims of the robust BDS Campaign that has itself scored several notable victories in recent months.

My intention in this post is to put aside these issues and report upon my sense of the diplomatic mood at the UN in relation to the future of Israel/Palestine relations. There is a sharp disconnect between the public profession of support for the resumed peace negotiations as a positive development with a privately acknowledged skepticism as to what to expect. In this regard, there is a widespread realization that conditions are not ripe for productive diplomacy for the following reasons: the apparent refusal of Israel’s political leadership to endorse a political outcome that is capable of satisfying even minimal Palestinian aspirations; the settlement phenomenon as dooming any viable form of a ‘two-state’ solution; the lack of Palestinian unity as between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas undermining its representational and legitimacy status.

The most serious concern on the Palestinian side is whether protecting the interests and rights of the totality of the Palestinian people in a peace process can be achieved within the present diplomatic framework. We need to be constantly reminded that ‘the Palestinian people’ cannot be confined to those Palestinian living under Israeli occupation: refugees in neighboring countries; refugees confined within occupied Palestine, but demanding a right of return to their residence at the time of dispossession; the Palestinian minority living in Israel; and 4-5 million Palestinians who constitute the Palestinian diaspora and its underlying reality of enforced exile.

It was also clear that the Palestinian Authority is confronted by a severe dilemma: either to accept the inadequate proposals put forward by Israel and the United States or reject these proposals and be blamed once again by Tel Aviv and Washington for rejecting a peace offer. Only some Israeli anxiety that the Palestinians might actually accept the U.S. proposals might induce Israel to refuse, on its side, to accept what Washington proposes, and spare the Palestinians the embarrassment posed by the dilemma of swallowing or spitting. That is, Israel when forced to show its hand may actually be unwilling to allow any solution to the conflict based on Palestinian self-determination, even if heavily weighted in Israel’s facvor. In effect, within the diplomatic setting there strong doubts exist as to whether the present Israeli leadership would accept even a Palestinian statelet even if it were endowed with only nominal sovereignty. In effect, from a Palestinian perspective it seems inconceivable that anything positive could emerge from the present direct negotiations, and it is widely appreciated that the PA agreed take part only after being subjected to severe pressure from the White House and Secretary Kerry. In this sense, the best that Ramallah can hope for is damage control.

There were three attitudes present among the more thoughtful diplomats at the UN who have been dealing with the Palestinian situation for years, if not decades: the first attitude was to believe somehow that ‘miracles’ happen in politics, and that a two state solution was still possible; usually this outlook avoided the home of the devil, that is the place where details reside, and if pressed could not offer a scenario that explained how the settlements could be shrunk sufficiently to enable a genuine two-state solution to emerge from the current round of talks; the second attitude again opted to support the resumption of the direct talks because it was ‘doing something,’ which seemed preferable to ‘doing nothing,’ bolstering this rather vapid view with the sentiment ‘at least they are doing something’; the third attitude, more privately and confidentially conveyed, fancies itself to be the voice of realism in world politics, which is contemptuous of the advocacy of rights and justice in relation to Palestine; this view has concluded that Israel has prevailed, it has won, and all that the Palestinians can do is to accommodate an adverse outcome, acknowledging defeat, and hope that the Israelis will not push their advantage toward a third cycle of dispossession (the first two being 1948, 1967) in the form of ‘population transfer’ so as to address their one remaining serious anxiety—the fertility gap leading to a feared tension between professing democracy and retaining the primary Zionist claim of being a Jewish state, the so-called ‘demographic bomb.’

As I reject all three of these postures, I will not leave my position as Special Rapporteur with a sense that inter-governmental diplomacy and its imaginative horizons have much to offer the Palestinian people even by way of understanding evolving trends in the conflict, much less realizing their rights, above all, the right of self-determination. At the same time, despite this, I have increased my belief that the UN has a crucial role to play in relation to a positive future for the Palestinian people—reinforcing the legitimacy of seeking a rights based solution rather than settling for a power based outcome that is called peace in an elaborate international ceremony of deception, in all likelihood on the lawn of the White House. In this period the UN has been playing an important part in legitimating Palestinian grievances by continuously referencing international law, human rights, and international morality.

The Israelis (and officialdom in the United States) indicate their awareness of this UN role by repeatedly stressing their unconditional opposition to what is labeled to be ‘the delegitimation project,’ which is a subtle propagandistic shift from the actual demand to uphold Palestinian rights to the misleading and diversionary claim that Israel’s critics are trying to challenge Israel’s right to exist as a state sovereign state. To be sure, the Palestinians are waging, with success a Legitimacy War against Israel for control of the legal and moral high ground, but they are not at this stage questioning Israeli statehood, but only its refusal to respect international law as it relates to the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

Let us acknowledge a double reality. The UN is a geopolitical actor that is behaviorally manipulated by money and hard power on many fundamental issues, including Palestine/Israel; this stark acknowledgement severely restricts the effectiveness of the UN with regard to questions of justice. Fortunately, this is not the whole story. The UN is also a normative actor that articulates the grievances of peoples and governments, influences public discourse with respect to the global policy agenda, and has great and distinctive symbolic leverage in establishing the legitimacy of claims. In other words, the UN can say what is right, without being necessarily able to do what is right. This distinction summarizes the narratives of articulating the Palestinian claims and the justice of the Palestinian struggle without being able to overcome behavioral obstacles in the geopolitical domain that block their fulfillment.

What such a gap also emphasizes is that the political climate is not yet right for constructive inter-governmental negotiations, which would require both Israel and the United States to recalculate their priorities and to contemplate alternative future scenarios in a manner that is far more congruent with upholding the panoply of Palestinian rights. Such shifts in the political climate are underway, and are not just a matter of changing public opinion, but also mobilizing popular regional and global support for nonviolent tactics of opposition and resistance to the evolving status quo. The Arab Spring of 2011 initially raised expectations that such a mobilization would surge, but counter-revolutionary developments, political unrest, and economic panic have temporarily, at least, dampened such prospects, and have lowered the profile of the Palestinian struggle.

Despite such adverse developments in the Middle East from a Palestinian perspective, it remains possible to launch within the UN a broad campaign to promote corporate responsibility in relation to the settlements, which could gradually be extended to other unlawful Israeli activities (e.g. separation wall, blockade of Gaza, prison and arrest abuses, house demolitions). Such a course of action links efforts within the UN to implement international law with activism that is already well established within global civil society, being guided by Palestinian architects of 21st century nonviolent resistance. In effect, two disillusionments (armed struggle and international diplomacy) are coupled with a revised post-Oslo strategy giving the Palestinian struggle a new identity (nonviolent resistance, global solidarity campaign, and legitimacy warfare) with an increasing emancipatory potential.

Such an affirmation is the inverse of the ultra realist view mentioned above that the struggle is essentially over, and all that is left is for the Palestinians to admit defeat and for the Israelis to dictate the terms of ‘the peace treaty.’ While admitting that such a visionary worldview may be based on wishful thinking, it is also appropriate to point out that most political conflicts since the end of World War II have reflected the outcome of legitimacy wars more than the balance of hard power. Military superiority and geopolitical leverage were consistently frustrated during the era of colonial wars in the 1960s and 1970s. In this regard, it should be understood that the settler colonial enterprise being pursued by Israel is on the wrong side of history, and so contrary to appearances, there is reason to be hopeful about the Palestinian future and historical grounds not succumb to the dreary imaginings of those who claim the mantle of realism.

Why Congress Should Say to ‘No’ on Syria

6 Sep

[I am not sure this attempt at clarifying the present stage of the Syria debate adds much to my prior posts, yet I hope that it provides a kind of summary that is helpful in following the unfolding debate; all along I have felt that the Syrian impasse presented the UN and the world with a tragic predicament: trapped between doing something to stop the Assad regime from committing atrocities against its own people so as to retain power and the non-viabiility and illegality of military intervention, a predicament further complicated by the proxy war within the region along sectarian lines, by the strategic involvement of the U.S. and Russia on opposite sides, the maneuverings behind the scenes by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel, and the avowed Turkish support for regime-changing intervention; also, the overall regional turmoil, and past bad feeling in relation to the UN role in the overthrow of Qadaffi posed additional obstacles; efforts to shape the political outcome by military means, because of the proxy war dimensions (including an increasingly evident, although still surprising, tacit alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia) have so far only escalated the violence on the ground in Syria; Turkey, Russia, and the United States have all along  oscillated between principled and pragmatic responses favoring one side or the other, and exhibiting an ambivalent commitment to equi-distant diplomacy.]

There are three positions that have considerable support in Washington circles, although rarely acknowledged and not popular with the public, partly because of recent foreign policy failures, and partly too removed from perceptions of genuine security interests:

–undertake an attack to uphold ‘red line’ credibility of the president and the United States Government;

–undertake an attack too avoid an insurgent defeat, but on a scale that will not produce an insurgent victory; goal: keep the civil war going;

–undertake an attack to convince Iran that Obama is ready to use force if diplomatic coercion doesn’t work.

There are several other considerations that need to be taken into account:

–the Assad regime is guilty of numerous crimes against humanity aside from and prior to its probable (although far from assured) responsibility for the August 21st attack with chemical weapons on Ghouta; Syria lacks a legitimate government from the perspective of international criminal law; with respect to the violation of the Geneva Accord with respect to chemical weapons, the responsibility of Assad personally and the Syrian government generally has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt at this point;

–nevertheless, the Assad regime retains considerable support from various segments of the Syrian population, possesses substantial military capabilities, and is unlikely to collapse without a major ground invasion; the Assad government retains a measure of legitimacy from the perspective of the politics of self-determination;

–insurgent forces are divided, without coherent leadership, and are also responsible for committing atrocities, and contain political extremists in their ranks; a victory by the insurgency does not seem likely to lead to legitimate governing process from the perspective of law and morality;

–the negative American experiences of relying on war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan should create a presumption against the authorization of force and reliance on military option in conflict situations; there is mounting evidence from past cases that the costs and risks associated with military options tend to be grossly understated during pre-war debates in the United States due partly to the political mobilization role played by mainstream media;

–the diplomatic alternative to force has been handicapped by its past abuse in the UN Security Council with respect to Libya authorization of ‘responsibility to protect’ undermining the trust of Russia, China, and others, and by the refusal to bring Iran into the political conversation as a key actor.

Against this background there are four important independent reasons for Congress to withhold authorization in this instance:

–a use of force that can neither be justified as self-defense, nor is authorized by the UN, is contrary to the UN Charter, which is an obligatory treaty, as well as being the most serious type of violation of international law in a post-Nuremburg world; the Nuremberg precedent with regard to crimes against peace (as the ‘crime of crimes’) should be respected, especially by the United States, which continues to serve for better and worse, as  the main normative architect of world order;

–the Kosovo precedent of ‘illegal, but legitimate’ is not applicable as a military attack is not likely to achieve either its political goals of ending the civil war and of causing the collapse of the Assad regime, nor its moral goals of stopping the slaughter and displacement of the Syrian people, and the devastation of their cities and country;

–even if the political and moral goals could be achieved, Congress, as well as the president, lacks the authority to authorized foreign policy uses of force that are incompatible with the UN Charter and international law;

–Congress should defer to domestic and world public opinion that clearly is opposed to a proposed military attack in the absence of an exceptional demonstration can be made as to the positive political and moral benefits of such an attack; for reasons mentioned, no such demonstration can be made in this instance; even the European Union has withheld support for a military attack on Syria at the

September meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg; only France among America’s traditional allies supported Obama’s insistence on reliance on a punitive military strike, supposedly for the sake of enforcing international law, bizarre reasoning because the rationale reduces to the following proposition: in view of the political realities, it is necessary to violate international law so as to be able to enforce it.

##

15 Jun

Prefatory Note: What follows below is the text of the report presented on 10 June 2013 to the Human Rights Council. It offers an overview of the situation from the perspective of human rights and international humanitarian law in occupied Palestine. Both Israel and the United States boycotted the session, presumably to express their displeasure with the report and my role as Special Rapporteur. UN Watch distributed a defamatory resolution calling for my dismissal from the position, and the United States delegate, Ambassador Donahue, called for my resignation. No government formally endorsed the UNW resolution, and so it was never acted upon, while I took the occasion of the press conference to confirm my unwillingness to resign, and on the contrary, to continue to do my best to reflect as honestly as possible the realities confronting the Palestinian people from the perspective of international law. In the open debate the European Union represented criticized what was called the inappropriate failure to limit my report to ‘law and facts,’ pointing particularly to what was described as ‘the political’ in paragraph 7. In that paragraph the report offers some comments on the futility of securing the Palestinian right of self-determination by way of resuming direct negotiations; by expressing such skepticism about the diplomatic track, the EU apparently regarded the assessment as political, but to my mind it was an appropriate comment on why the prospects for protecting and realizing Palestinian fundamental rights under international law are likely to remain in total eclipse. The text below can be read in its formal context by using the link to the actual document to be found on the Human Rights Council website. *************************

United Nations

A/HRC/23/XX

General Assembly Distr.: General 27 May 2013   Original: English

Human Rights Council Twenty-third session Agenda item 7

Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk*

Summary
     In the present report, while noting the continuing non-cooperation of Israel, the Special Rapporteur addresses Israel’s Operation “Pillar of Defense” and the general human rights situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as the expansion of Israeli settlements – and businesses that profit from Israeli settlements and the situation of Palestinians detained by Israel.

  Contents Paragraphs Page I. Introduction – 3 II. The Gaza Strip – A. Operation “Pillar of Defense” – B. Economic and social conditions C. Health in Gaza – D. Ceasefire implementation – V. Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centres – VI. Settlements VII. Businesses that profit from Israeli settlements VIII. Recommendations
I. Introduction

  1. Once again it is necessary to highlight the failure of the Government of Israel to cooperate in the implementation of this mandate even to the extent of allowing the Special Rapporteur to enter occupied Palestine. Such entry is required to gain first-hand information about alleged human rights and international humanitarian violations by the Occupying Power, and appropriate cooperation by Member States in such official undertakings is prescribed in Articles 104 and 105(2) of the Charter. It is further specified in the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, especially relevant is Article VI, Section 22, “Experts on Missions for the United Nations.” To enable mandate holders  to carry out their assignments in accordance with best practices, it would be important for the Human Rights Council to insist that Member States of the United Nations  live up to these obligations.
  2. The Special Rapporteur wishes to raise another concern regarding the independence, credibility, and effectiveness of this mandate. Ever since the Special Rapporteur assumed this position, “UN Watch” – a “pro-Israel” lobbying organization accredited as an NGO to the UN ECOSOC, has issued a series of defamatory attacks demeaning his character, repeatedly distorting his views on potentially inflammatory issues. This smear campaign has been carried out in numerous settings, including at the Human Rights Council, as well as university venues where the Special Rapporteur gives lectures in his personal capacity on subjects unrelated to the mandate. The lobby groups’ smears have been sent to diplomats and United Nations officials, including the Secretary-General, who has apparently accepted the allegations at face value, issuing public criticism of the Special Rapporteur. It is disappointing that such irresponsible and dishonest attacks have been taken seriously, with no effort to seek the views of the Special Rapporteur or otherwise verify the accuracy of the allegations. To set the record straight, the Special Rapporteur proposes that UN Watch be investigated to determine whether it qualifies as an independent organization that operates in accord with its name and stated objectives, and is not indirectly sponsored by the Government of Israel and/or other “pro-Israel” lobbying groups affiliated with the Government, as well as whether its programme of work is of direct relevance to the aims and purposes of the United Nations.[1] Even a superficial review of their website confirms their preoccupation with character assassination, and the absence of an organizational agenda that corresponds to its claim to exercise oversight over United Nations activities.[2]  It is notable that despite its efforts to discredit the Special Rapporteur, UN Watch has never offered substantive criticisms or entered into any serious discussion of the Special Rapporteur’s reports.  Such defamation of a special rapporteur is detrimental to the independence and substantive intention of any mandate. It diverts attention from the message to the messenger, and thus shifts public interest away from the need to protect human rights in contexts that have been identified by the Human Rights Council as of particular concern.  The Special Rapporteur recommends that this issue be viewed in relation not only to his mandate, but also as a matter of principle relating to ensuring a responsible role for NGOs within the United Nations system. In like manner, it seems important to encourage a greater willingness on the part of senior United Nations officials to defend special rapporteurs who are subject to such diversionary attacks, or at the least, not to be complicit.
  3. To fulfil the mandate to the extent possible under the circumstances above-mentioned, the Special Rapporteur completed a mission to the occupied Gaza Strip from 1 to 3 December 2012. The mission intended to investigate issues pertaining to the economic and social rights of civilians in Gaza, which have received considerable attention given the comprehensive Israeli blockade that has existed since mid-2007 and continues to preclude economic viability by prohibiting almost all forms of export, thereby continuing to impose unacceptable hardships on the civilian population as a whole. The mission also investigated the effects of a major military attack by Israel, code named Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which occurred from 14 to 21 November 2012.
  4. There are several general developments that have occurred since the submission of the last report to the Human Rights Council that seem relevant to the mandate. Perhaps the most significant development occurred on 29 November 2012, when the General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, a status that is a step on the path to the realization of the collective and inalienable right of self-determination that belongs to the Palestinian people as a whole.
  5. The Special Rapporteur was invited to give the opening address at an international conference involving distinguished experts from several countries. The conference occurred on 8-9 May 2013 at Birzeit University and was devoted to the theme of “Expanding the Legal Paradigm for Palestine”. Because of the impossibility of attending the event in person, the Special Rapporteur addressed the audience via Skype. The presentation emphasized the limits of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in the context of prolonged occupation, a concern that has been expressed in previous reports. Three overlapping legal regimes were distinguished:
    1. IHL, as contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and  Additional Protocol I: useful for identifying violations associated with behaviour of the Occupying Power toward the civilian population of the Occupied Territory: including construction of settlements, collective punishments, targeted assassinations, diversion of water, excessive force, conditions of detention and imprisonment. There is an additional deficiency here arising from the failure of Parties to the Geneva Conventions to uphold the duty set forth in common Article 1 “to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.” If a pattern of persistent violation is present and sustained for a period of years, as with Israel’s occupation of Palestine, then steps should be taken to encourage compliance. Such a collective responsibility by all Contracting Parties to “repress grave breaches” is made clearer in Protocol I, Articles 86 and 91, a treaty that has the status of customary international law.
    2. Oslo Framework: allocation of administrative and governmental responsibilities to Areas A (Palestinian), B (joint Palestinian-Israeli), and C (Israeli) that creates a different legal regime, especially given the different standards of protection and access to law accorded to Israeli settlers and Palestinians living within in the West Bank. The Oslo process, with its five-year timeline for the resolution of final status issues, constituted a humane acknowledgement that a belligerent occupation of a society must be ended. United Nations and European Union reports indicate that the Palestinian presence in Area C (which covers 61% of the land but only 4% of the Palestinian population), is under constant pressure, and even threat of elimination. It is estimated that 350,000 Jewish settlers in about 200 settlements and outposts are living in Area C, having appropriated the preferred land, situated mainly on high ground, making use of disproportionate amounts of water exploited from local aquifers at the expense of the Palestinian population. In other words, the Oslo formula has facilitated additional encroachments on Palestinian territory that have the appearance of permanence and violate the Fourth Geneva Convention’s obligation on the Occupier to refrain from altering the nature of the occupied country or appropriating its resources.
    3. Prolonged Occupation: there is no presently applicable international legal framework that captures the extent to which the interests and wellbeing of the civilian population are severely jeopardized, perhaps irreversibly, if the occupation lasts longer than five years. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has lasted 46 years, a period that causes serious mental disorders associated with living for decades without the protection of laws and rights and with stifling restrictions on mobility and travel. Israel’s occupation shows no signs of ending. The prolonged state of exception and the normalisation of occupation have nurtured a climate where the cumulative impact of large numbers of settlers and settlements, which the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements aptly described as “creeping annexation”, and the unlawful Israeli annexation and demographic manipulations in East Jerusalem have created fundamental threats to the Palestinian right of self-determination. It is the judgment of this Special Rapporteur that such issues bear directly on upholding the right of self-determination, and represent a flaw or insufficiency in the conventional conceptions of IHL and international human rights. This flaw or inadequacy should be addressed by either the International Committee of the Red Cross by convening an international conference to draft a convention for Occupations that surpass five years, or the manifold issues related to prolonged occupation be examined by a commission of inquiry composed of relevant international law experts.
  6. It has been widely accepted in commentary on the Israel/Palestine conflict that the only path to a sustainable and just peace, as well as the fulfilment of the Palestinian right of self-determination, is through direct negotiations. Strong efforts have been made in the last several months both by the concerned Governments, by the United States as the principal intermediary and by the renewing the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, to revive negotiations. This Arab Peace Initiative has been modified to allow for ‘land swaps,’ which appears to be a means of incorporating major settlement blocs into Israel and opening the door to territorial adjustments in response to Israel’s security interests.
  7. The Special Rapporteur is sceptical of the value of direct negotiations at this time, especially in relation to the protection of the human rights of Palestinians, above all their right of self-determination. The political preconditions for effective negotiations do not seem to exist on either side: for Israel, a pro-settler Government with a seeming expansionist vision of the territorial scope of Israel and annexationist policies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, does not seem inclined to withdraw to 1967 lines or to address such other issues as the division of Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the non-diversion of water from Palestine’s aquifers, and the sovereign equality of a Palestinian state.

II. The Gaza Strip A. Operation “Pillar of Defense”

  1. The most sustained use of force since the Operation “Cast Lead” occurred when Israel launched Operation “Pillar of Defense,” on 14 November 2012 that continued for eight days. The timeline of violence leading up to the attack is complex, with no clear cause and effect relationship.[3] There were incidents of border violence and rocket fire in the days before, yet there is widespread agreement that the definitive moment occurred when the Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, was assassinated in a targeted killing. It was a safe assumption that the assassination of such a high value target would occasion a strong retaliation from Gaza. This was confirmed by widely-respected Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who confirmed that Jabari, at the time he was killed, was in the final stages of negotiating a long-term ceasefire with Israel.  In a New York Times article published during Pillar of Defense, Baskin points out that Israel has tried every military option to crush the capacity and will of Gaza to engage in violent resistance. In his words, “The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement for a long-term mutual ceasefire.”[4] As Baskin points out, Jabari had long been in Israeli crosshairs and was known to have masterminded the capture and detention of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.  Jabari was the leader who had kept Shalit alive and in good health while in captivity for several years, who had prevented rogue militias in Gaza from engaging in violence against Israel, and had acted to uphold prior ceasefires that had stemmed the level of violence on the Gazan border in recent years, which directly contributed to keeping Israeli casualties at zero since “Cast Lead.”
  2. Israel justified “Pillar of Defense” as a defensive response to Gaza rocket fire. The United States along with several European countries supported this claim. The U.S. Department of State expressed this sentiment when the attacks started: “We support Israel’s right to defend itself and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties”.[5] Supporters of Palestine regarded Israel’s concerted use of force against urbanized and vulnerable Gaza as ‘aggression’ and ‘criminal.’ Israeli military analysts argued that the strategic purpose of Pillar of Defense was to restore deterrence in light of the deterioration of recent increases in violence emanating from Gaza and to destroy the capacity of Gaza’s military forces to launch long-range rockets able to reach the major centers of population in Israel.[6] Both sides claimed victory when the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement came into effect on 21 November 2012. Clearly, both sides had made adjustments in light of the experience of Cast Lead. The Israeli side avoided a ground attack that had turned the tide of public opinion against its operation in 2009, and took some steps to avoid large civilian casualties. On the Gazan side, casualties to police and militants were greatly reduced by avoiding targeted facilities and taking secure shelter, and damage to rocket launchers was reduced by greater mobility and use of underground launching sites. The terms of the ceasefire lend support to the claim of the de-facto authorities in Gaza that Israel had given ground: agreeing not to engage in future targeted assassinations, and to meet to discuss the opening of the crossing points to goods and persons. The implementation of the ceasefire agreement is discussed later.

10. The Special Rapporteur’s mission had been conceived to obtain information about the situation in the Gaza Strip in light of the United Nations study that suggested that Gaza’s viability would be at serious risk by 2020.[7] The Special Rapporteur did not abandon that goal, but added concerns regarding Pillar of Defense, since the ceasefire had gone into effect ten days before the Special Rapporteur’s arrival. Several aspects of the attacks raised serious issues of IHL bearing on the use of excessive force in relation to a population living under conditions of occupation. Although Israel implemented its plan of ‘disengagement’ in 2005, it did not end its legal responsibilities as the Occupying Power. This conclusion reflects Israel’s control of entry and exit to Gaza from land, sea, and air; frequent violent incursions; and a blockade maintained since mid-2007. The situation in Gaza has been likened to a large open air prison in which the inmates control the interior while the guards control the perimeter. 11. The Special Rapporteur’s mission consisted of three activities: visits to targeted areas and meetings with families affected adversely by Pillar of Defense; briefings with United Nations officials and with national and international representatives of NGOs active in Gaza; and meetings with local journalists, doctors, and individuals knowledgeable about the policies, practices and discussions among the senior level of the de facto authorities. It was an intense yet illuminating means to acquire a direct appreciation of the overall human rights situation in Gaza. 12. It is difficult to summarize the meetings with family members affected by the attacks. The Special Rapporteur visited the Ismail Mohamed Abu Tabiekh Aslan neighbourhood of Gaza City, which is situated close to the border with Israel and experienced heavy artillery and missile attacks. Some residents reported that drones were used to attack. The Special Rapporteur met with adult residents, mainly men, who spoke movingly of how the attacks damaged the modest infrastructure (especially electricity and water storage) of this extremely poor neighbourhood and killed their animals, which were crucial to their meagre livelihood. They also spoke of their shared sense of vulnerability during the attacks, with no facilities available to offer protection. Strong psychological impacts were widely reported, especially affecting young children who were experiencing nightmares, bedwetting, and panic attacks. There were physical effects resulting from damage to residences in a setting where unemployment was widespread and there were insufficient resources to repair damage even if materials were available. Several interlocutors reported that they had worked in Israel until 2001, but subsequently were unemployed and became dependent on international aid. 13. The Special Rapporteur visited the destroyed residence of the Al Dalou family, which lost ten family members, including four young children during the attack. Jamel Mahmoud Yassin Al Dalou, the surviving grandfather to the four dead children, described himself as a trader in foodstuffs who lived with his family in the Nasser neighbourhood and enjoyed better living conditions than most Gazans. Mr. Al Dalou said that during the November attacks “every one of us was a target…the sky was full of Israeli planes and drones, everything that moved could be hit.” “I left to go to my business by taxi to bring needed food to the family, while there people came to me crying and told me my house had been hit, the worst news I received in my life. I rushed home to find many working to remove the rubble of the destroyed house.” Finding the deaths of his children and grandchildren, Mr. Al Dalou commented, “If they cannot deal with Islamic militants, should they attack children? We have no problem if Israelis attack militants, but this was a great injustice. I lost my family. I am sleeping on the street. Only my son and I survived. This is one of the worst crimes. Where is the international court to prosecute the perpetrators? They destroy our houses, take our land, and destroy our women and children. To whom can I complain?” This man’s voice represented the pain and grief encountered throughout the visit: “I keep asking Allah to help me be patient, to deal with this injustice and tragedy, to punish the perpetrators of these crimes, and to have their mothers and fathers suffer as I am suffering now.” This was the same essential story told by other victims and survivors of the attacks with whom the Special Rapporteur spoke.  From an IHL perspective, what seems striking is that several of the damaged structures were situated in clearly demarcated residential districts. There is a new yardstick by which to assess responsibility for military strikes on civilian targets. On the one side, the bombing and missile technology has become much more accurate, allowing for less accidental or collateral damage. At the same time, this increased accuracy creates a presumption that direct hits on civilian residences are deliberate, and thus exhibit criminal intention. In certain instances, there may have been someone living in a residential building who was acknowledged as a militant or serving in the government, but such a presence does not justify targeting an entire residential or apartment complex. In such circumstances, the collateral damage to civilians far outweighs the direct damage inflicted on legally acceptable targets. The Special Rapporteur was informed by several Gazans that rockets were neither stored nor fired from residential districts, but were stored underground and launched from open spaces. Such information was confirmed in the briefing received from the United Nations security specialist. 14. The Special Rapporteur was briefed by United Nations officials and civil society representatives who had observed and investigated compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law during Pillar of Defense.  The concerns noted above were affirmed and our attention was called to other important issues. Israel’s intentional targeting of journalists covering Pillar of Defense was highlighted as a concern that needs to be addressed by the international community, especially those who advocate for press freedoms.  The view was repeatedly expressed that Israel’s attacks constitute a part of its continuous collective punishment of Palestinians. In this respect complaints regarding Israeli impunity for such actions, including the lack of will of the international community to firmly address Israeli impunity, were frequent. One representative insisted that “justice required accountability of Israelis and upholding rights of Palestinians.” The Special Rapporteur was informed that Israeli attacks had shifted from being restricted to specific targets in the first four days of Pillar of Defense, which appeared to avoid serious civilian casualties and damage, to later attacks on civilian and agricultural targets as well as reliance on less accurate forms of weaponry, particularly shelling by naval and land artillery. It was also noted that a neglected humanitarian impact of the attacks was to create more than 60,000 internally displaced persons, who had no refuge after leaving their places of residence. It was suggested that because there does not appear to be a willingness to have an international inquiry into the violations during the attacks, it places a burden of responsibility on human rights NGOs. There was widespread agreement that the possibility of peace depended on ending the blockade and shifting commerce from the tunnels to the crossings, with Israel being blamed for its lack of clarity in relation to the definition and breadth of the ARAs. The Special Rapporteur was left with the strong impression that the ceasefire agreement, even if were to be fully implemented, was a stopgap measure, and that more fundamental changes needed to be taken to allow Gaza to focus its energies on long-term viability. 15. The Special Rapporteur met with several representatives of Gaza’s fishermen, including Nizar Ayaash, Head of the Fishermen’s Association, and  Mohammed El Asi, Head of Tawfeq Association. There are about 3,700 professional fishermen in Gaza who supply food for approximately 50,000 Gazans. The fishing industry has been hard hit by Israeli restrictions and interference with fishing operations. Fishing had been restricted to three nautical miles, which limits productive activity severely, as most edible fish live near rocks that are mostly situated between 12 and 20 nautical miles from shore. To catch fish nearer to shore requires special equipment that few of the Gaza fishing boats possess, such as drag nets to catch bottom fish. The Pillar of Defense attacks appeared to target buildings on shore belonging to the Fishermen’s Association, and did extensive damage to the structures, as well as destroyed or damaged 85 fishing vessels.  The Special Rapporteur was informed that there were high hopes that restrictions would be eased after the ceasefire, and to some extent this happened. There was a green light to fish the coastal zone up to six nautical miles, although Israeli gunboats were accused of often harassing fishing activities, firing at the boats, arresting fishermen, excluding their boats from the enlarged zone, and even shelling boats for no reason. Incidents reported included the confiscation of and arrest of those on board a boat belonging to one of the individuals at our meeting that had taken place only a couple of days earlier, coupled with attacks on fishing vessels the previous day. No reason was given for such arrests, and although these fishermen were released, it produced considerable anxiety and resentment and often fishermen are unable to recover critical and expensive equipment, such as motor engines for their boats or even the boats themselves. It is difficult for most Gazan fishermen to earn enough to sustain a minimum standard of living for his family. Many have given up fishing.  The Special Rapporteur was also told that the buildings attacked were never used to store weapons, and that this had been confirmed by both the International Committee of the Red Cross and international media. It is evident that under conditions of blockade, the difficulties of providing the population with ample, healthy food have grown and been compounded by budgetary constraints that limit UNRWA’s capability to overcome the shortfall. To allow Gazans to take full advantage of their fishing resources would seem to be a primary obligation of the Occupying Power. 16. The mission met with Palestinian women who had either been prisoners themselves or had close relatives in prison. One was the internationally known Palestinian, Hana Shalabi, who had been released from an Israeli prison in the October 2011 Shalit exchange and then re-arrested in an abusive manner at her family home. Ms. Shalabi had not been accused of a crime, but held under administrative detention, which is inconsistent with IHL requirements of prompt charges and trial in the event of detention. Upon re-arrest Ms. Shalabi started a hunger strike that put her at grave risk of death. Israeli authorities agreed to her release, but with the proviso that she would be deported to Gaza, which is away from her family and habitual place of residence. Such a deportation is clearly punitive, and is disturbingly insensitive to Ms. Shalabi’s needs for family and medical support after her experience. The Special Rapporteur recorded other accounts of prison conditions confronting Palestinians: reliance on solitary confinement, denial of family visits, punishment of hunger striking prisoners, punishment for purely political activity, inadequate medical facilities and treatment. The Special Rapporteur also heard complaints about difficulties of accessing United Nations officials to express grievances, summed up by one comment: “When you live this experience it is completely different from talking about it.”  The situation of Palestinian prisoners in discussed in detail further below. B. Economic and social conditions 17. Several meetings were held with United Nations officials and NGO representatives and experts that were relevant to an assessment of social and economic conditions. Field visits were undertaken to examine some of the difficulties with water and sewage facilities, as well as to view damage inflicted by Pillar of Defense. The mission met with the Deputy Director of UNRWA in Gaza, who imparted some key information. His general conclusions are important: (1) UNRWA is “vastly underfunded” to give needed services, especially food, to that portion of the Gazan population that is dependent on aid; (2) the character of dependence is so acute as to qualify as an of ‘emergency’; (3) the Israeli blockade is responsible for this crisis of dependency, with 10% of Gazans being aid dependent prior to the blockade in 2007, while current the percentage has risen to an astounding 70%; (4) the struggle to restore housing destroyed during Cast Lead was expected to be completed in 2013, but that goal is un-achievable given the $20 million of damage done during Pillar of Defense; (5) the water situation is desperate, with 90% of Gaza’s aquifer “unfit for human consumption,’ and Israel diverting a disproportionate share of the coastal aquifer. UNRWA indicated that resumptions of violence worsen this extremely bad economic and social situation. It was emphasized that allowing exports would “do wonders” to restore economic viability. Another concrete step would be for Israel to allow Palestinian agricultural activity nearer to the buffer zone that Israel establishes for security reasons on the Gaza side of the border. The insufficiency of electricity availability and the contaminated nature of the water supply are among the most serious challenges. It was reported that the tunnel network makes the population rely on black markets for many consumer goods, a dynamic that was declared to strengthen Hamas, which gains large revenue by taxing tunnel traffic, and to weaken the Palestinian Authority, which obtains revenue from products that enter or leave Gaza through the crossings.  To improve longer term prospects in Gaza several steps are essential: (1) lifting the blockade is necessary if the economy is to be normalized, which would still require 5-10 years of unimpeded effort; (2) financing the construction of a major desalination facility, possibly via the International Monetary Fund; (3) shifting agricultural production to less water intensive crops; (4) installing solar networks for heat and electricity; (5) improving sewage treatment to avoid further pollution of the Mediterranean Sea.

  1. 18.  The mission met with members of the WASH Cluster and received detailed briefings. There was stress on the urgent need for supporting self-sufficiency and enhanced water quality. The scarcity and supply issues were reportedly aggravated by Israel having cut Gaza off from West Bank aquifers, which appears to violate the arrangements concerning allocation of water in the Oslo II agreements. Israel is implementing an approach that treats Gaza as an entirely independent entity, while from a Palestinian perspective it would be preferable to treat the West Bank and Gaza as one, especially for water policy. Israel currently diverts 92% of aquifers for its own use, and this deprives Gaza of the most efficient way to satisfy its water needs. Given this situation, the practical option for Gaza is a major investment in desalination capabilities, although there were suspicions that Israel is seeking to sell its desalination technology to Gaza. Without desalination and water purification initiatives, the public health hazard of contaminated water is likely to prove catastrophic for Gaza. 95% of water in Gaza is unsafe for human use. It was alleged that Israel allows Gaza to invest in its own program of infrastructural improvements, and then bombs the improvements achieved.  The extent of Israel’s responsibilities as Occupying Power with respect to such matters as water and electricity, which are essential aspects of protecting the civilian population, is paramount. It was recommended that desalination and sewage facilities be regarded as improper targets in the event of Israeli attacks. It was claimed that past targeting of such facilities has discouraged foreign donors from reinvesting, and that difficulties encountered in importing spare parts posed an obstacle to maintenance works. There was an emphasis on the need for greater electricity to pump water, enabling more efficient use of Gaza’s food-producing potential. There were also reports of wasted water due to faulty treatment facilities, increased salinity in ground water, and administrative problems with foreign funding due to the split in control between formal recognition by Israel of the Palestinian Authority as still controlling Gaza and the de facto status of the authorities.
  2. 19.  Fundamental to the viability of Gaza is the question of food security, both as a present and future challenge. The Special Rapporteur was made aware of the range of problems. The Gaza Strip is 321 square miles, and the latest population estimate is 1.75 million residents, making it one of the most densely populated and impoverished territories in the world. These underlying conditions have been aggravated by Israel’s maintenance of a security buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border that deprives Palestinian farmers of 34% of available agricultural land. Periodic Israeli incursions have destroyed wells and farm animals, and have made it hazardous to work the land.  Pillar of Defense inflicted considerable damage on agricultural structures and animal shelters throughout Gaza. The Special Rapporteur was informed that agriculture seemed to have been particularly targeted. To have any hope of achieving long-term viability, the agricultural sector depends on an end to the blockade; improved access to seeds; better irrigation; secure access to the land; a reduced and demarcated buffer zone; and the renewal of exports of key products in viable quantities. Long term projections that assume continued population growth and improving living conditions, including less dependence on international donors, are uniformly pessimistic about the future of Gaza, especially if it continues to be cut off from the West Bank and the outside world.
  3. 20.  The gravity of the situation has been dramatized recently by confrontations between Gazans and UNRWA as a result of food shortfalls.[8] The UN projection of the collapse of Gaza as a viable entity for the current population by 2020 was confirmed by NGO representatives, who even suggested that such a projection was optimistic, especially in relation to water quality and availability, and that 2016 was more realistic. Present conditions are threatening to unleash a health epidemic. There are reports of widespread mental difficulties being experienced by virtually the entire juvenile population. UNRWA felt that it would be only possible to improve the overall situation in Gaza if its annual budget were increased by $200 million to $300 million, which seems unlikely at present. The NGO Action Against Hunger noted that any prospect for agricultural sufficiency and livelihood capacity will depend on Gaza reclaiming at least 50% of the coastal aquifer.

C. Health in Gaza 21. The Special Rapporteur met with health experts associated with World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. They presented a grim picture of the health situation in Gaza. One unexpected finding was their shared assessment that the health effects of Pillar of Defense were more severe than those that followed from Cast Lead, despite lower casualties. An increased perception of deliberately targeting neighbourhoods and agricultural settings, more fear arising from recollections of past violence, and greater sensitivity to extreme vulnerability were cited. Mental health experts mentioned the extent to which each major violent incursion in Gaza destroys whatever progress had been achieved in recent years causes a net depressive mood and reality summarized by the word often encountered in such briefings: ‘de-development’. 22. As far as medical care there were reports of an increase in referrals for treatment in Israel and Egypt (for instance, 8,000 in 2007 as compared to 16,000 in 2011) for persons suffering from cancer and cardiac conditions, as well as other diseases that could not be treated in Gaza. This increase in referrals was explained as partly caused by the deterioration of medical equipment in Gaza, the inability to import spare parts, and the failure to invest in advanced medical facilities. Despite these shortcomings, health specialists did report that there was some improvement in the overall medical situation following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when it became easier to receive travel permits (95% of requests were approved, although often with harmful delays) and to import certain medical equipment. The Special Rapporteur received reports of tragic deaths caused by delays in issuance or denial of travel permits for those needing urgent treatment. Other problems identified included the unavailability of 30% of essential medicines and pharmaceutical supplies that had to be shipped from the West Bank, 192 drugs were out of stock. 23. During Pillar of Defense, public health facilities were severely strained and the population came to depend on NGO assistance, amidst reports of a high incidence of physical and mental injuries. The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme emphasized the degree to which the impact of the siege and wartime violence on the mental wellbeing of the civilian population has been both adverse and cumulative. They spoke of the high level of stress observed in most Gazans, with secondary symptoms of despair, hopelessness, and powerlessness, and somatic complaints that originate with acute stress such as high blood pressure among children. Health workers in Gaza often sense that there is a need to prepare Gazans psychologically for the next cycle of violence. Under such circumstances there occur signs of a loss of the will to live. Such pessimistic assessments were inconsistent with accounts that emphasized the high morale of the civilian population, despite the stress, as evidenced by the refusal to leave even when opportunities to do so emerge. There were suggestions that the stress and economic challenges of sustaining livelihoods seemed connected with a rise in domestic violence, post-traumatic stress, and indications that for children older than seven there were reactivated haunting memories of the horrors experienced during Cast Lead. It was stressed that medical experts are themselves survivors of trauma-inducing situations who require counselling. While people in Gaza suffering from physical ailments seek help, those with mental difficulties tend not to, being culturally inhibited from acknowledging mental problems. Even taking this into account, it was reported that there exists a 70-80% treatment gap between those who need help but do not receive it because of shortages in the health system. Added to this is the serious health concern relating to disease associated with contaminated water and inadequate nutrition that has led to widespread stunting in children. These impressions were elaborated upon in a meeting with the psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad El-Serraj, who confirmed the observations made by other health specialists and emphasized a variety of issues that were aggravating the situation, including refusals by Israeli hospitals to accept patients from Gaza who were unable to pay the exorbitant costs of treatment. He recommended creation of a private patients’ fund that could be drawn upon for medical treatment outside of Gaza. D. Ceasefire implementation 24. The ceasefire agreement[9] between the de-facto authorities in Gaza and Israel embodied an understanding that, beyond an immediate cessation of hostilities, Israel would refrain from incursions and targeted assassinations in Gaza and would also allow the movement of people and goods at the crossings.  Despite the various interpretations of this broader sense of the ceasefire understanding, with some Israelis contending that it was only an agreement to discuss, there was a general expectation, at least among Palestinians, that Israel would loosen the stranglehold it has held over the civilian population and make life more tolerable.  Both sides have largely refrained from resuming hostilities, but several developments suggest that Israel has not adhered to the spirit of the ceasefire agreement.  There are few signs of a loosening of the blockade and in recent weeks, targeted assassinations of suspected militants and incursions by the IDF into Gaza have resumed.  The excessive use of force by the Israeli security forces in the enforcement of the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) continues with disturbing regularity.  Several setbacks over the past weeks and months are highlighted hereunder. 25. The Special Rapporteur is disturbed by excessive use of force in the enforcement of ARAs on land and at sea as well as military incursions with bulldozers into Gaza.  The Special Rapporteur is also concerned by punitive measures taken by Israel, such as rescinding the fishing zone and closing border crossings, which amount to the collective punishment of the civilian population. 26. On 22 February, the IDF reportedly fired live ammunition toward a group of Palestinians enjoying a picnic approximately 400 metres from the border fence, resulting in three Palestinians injured.  On 9 and 19 February, a total of six fishermen were arrested in separate incidents less than six nautical miles off the coast.  In both incidents, the fishermen released the same day, but their boats were confiscated.  On 18 and 21 February, a total of four fishermen were shot and injured by Israel, three nautical miles from shore.  Two were shot by rubber bullets, while the remaining two, including one minor, were injured by shrapnel from live bullets. 27. Allegedly in response to a rocket fired on 26 February by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which caused no casualties, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing and tightened restrictions in the ARAs on land and at sea.  Israel also adopted severe measures to enforce the ARAs, including live-fire shooting without warning, leaving civilians, including farmers, seriously injured.  Four Palestinians have been killed and 106 injured by Israel in the ARA since the ceasefire.[10]  Israeli Naval Forces increased their attacks on Palestinian fishermen within six nautical miles by using rubber and live bullets, at times without advance warning, despite the ceasefire agreement which expanded the fishing zone from three to six nautical miles, resulting in injuries to fishermen.  IDF tanks and bulldozers have also made numerous incursions over the past months into Gaza to undertaken levelling and excavations. 28. On 21 March, Israel again reduced the maritime area along the coast, shrinking it three nautical miles.[11]  Fishermen aiming to fish in areas up to six nautical miles were ordered by Israel through megaphone to return to within three nautical miles.  On 23 and 24 March, Israeli naval forces opened fire toward Palestinian boats located at 1.5 nautical miles from the coast.[12] 29. The Special Rapporteur is concerned about Israel’s periodic closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing as a retaliatory measure to tighten the stranglehold of Gaza.  Kerem Shalom is the crossing point for goods and approximately 40% of the goods coming through are food and other basic supplies, including cooking gas. Its prolonged closure leads to shortages of basic items and higher prices of commodities.  After 21 March, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing, bringing the movement of goods to a halt for the second time after the earlier closure from 27 February to 3 March. Restrictions were also imposed at the Erez crossing, limiting movement to humanitarian cases holding permits. The Israeli authorities re-opened Kerem Shalom crossing for a day on 28 March, after having closed it for seven successive days. Crossings at Erez and Kerem Shalom resumed again, subject to pre-21 March restrictions, on 2 April. 30. The Special Rapporteur expresses concern about the human rights and humanitarian consequences of breaches of the ceasefire agreement.  While the continued illegal blockade of Gaza by the occupying power and its failure to uphold its responsibilities to ensure the protection of civilians remain of utmost concern, the Special Rapporteur is alarmed by what appears to be the use of collective punishment upon the entire civilian population of Gaza by Israel. 31. The ceasefire agreement will continue to be tested.  Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur is mindful that the continued blockade of Gaza, of which the restricted fishing zone is only one component, remains of primary concern to the residents of Gaza.   The Israeli stranglehold is such that Gaza’s monthly exports consist of a few truckloads of cut flowers, date bars, cherry tomatoes and spices.[13]  Israel’s blockade is stunting the potential for economic development in the Gaza Strip. III. Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centres 32. The Special Rapporteur continues to be disturbed by reports concerning the treatment of thousands of Palestinians who are detained or imprisoned by Israel.  As of the submission of this report, the Government of Israel had in custody around 4,800 Palestinians.[14]  The Special Rapporteur deeply regrets that Israel continues to ignore problems, which he and other United Nations human rights bodies have repeatedly enumerated in official reports, related to the detention of Palestinians.[15] The results are Israeli violations on a massive scale.  While the Special Rapporteur highlights hereunder cases and issues of concern within the reporting period, the following policies and practices remain serious, on-going concerns: detention without charges and other forms of arbitrary detention, such as Israel’s abusive mis-use of administrative detention; torture and other forms of ill, inhumane and humiliating treatment; coerced confessions; solitary confinement, including of children; denial of equality of arms; denial of visits by family members and the International Committee of the Red Cross; denial of access to legal representation; unacceptable conditions in prisons and detention centres; lack of access to required health care, at times amounting to medical neglect; and denial of access to education, including for children.  These concerns are punctuated by Israel’s flagrant disregard of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 33. Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in detention continues to alarm.  Many of the Special Rapporteur’s concerns in this respect were raised in his report to the General Assembly in September 2011.[16]  A February 2013 UNICEF report reminds the international community that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children routinely violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[17]  It concludes 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.”  UNICEF’s report further concludes that “the ill-treatment of [Palestinian] children who come in contact with the [Israeli] 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.”  In a clarifying indication of the extent of the problems, UNICEF notes that its conclusions are based, among other things, on ten years of consistent allegations.  Another clarifying indication of the extent of the problems comes by way of one of UNICEF’s recommendations: “Israeli authorities should give immediate consideration to establishing an independent investigation into the reports of ill-treatment of children in the military detention system, in accordance with the 2002 recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on [sic] Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”  Over ten years of serious violations against Palestinian children remain to be answered for by Israel.  It is telling to contrast the treatment that Israel metes out to Palestinian children with the treatment it affords Israeli children, including settlers in Palestine.[18]  This contrast is one way of comprehending the grossly discriminatory nature of Israel’s occupation. 34. The death of Palestinian Arafat Jaradat on 23 February 2013, while in an Israeli facility, constitutes another criminal mark on Israel’s detention regime.  While no cause of death was formally recorded,[19] the Palestinian Authority’s chief medical examiner, Saber Aloul, observed the autopsy and reported clear indications of ill-treatment and torture on the body of the previously healthy 30-year-old.  In particular, Dr. Aloul reported that Mr. Jaradat’s death was caused by nervous shock resulting from severe pain, which was due to injuries inflicted through direct and extreme torture.  Dr. Aloul found that Mr. Jaradat displayed severe bruising on his upper back, deep bruising along the spine, and significant bruising on both sides of the chest. The autopsy uncovered bruising on both of his arms and inside his mouth, blood around his nose and three fractured ribs.[20]  The death of a prisoner during interrogation is always a cause for concern. Israel remains firmly committed to impunity for its officials who interrogate Palestinians.  This is evidenced by a study carried out by B’Tselem, which determined that, between 2001 and 2011, over 700 complaints of abuse by Israeli security agents interrogating Palestinians resulted in not one criminal investigation.[21]  In this context, there is a clear need for an outside, credible investigation to clarify the circumstances that led to Mr. Jaradat’s death. 35. On 2 April 2013 another Palestinian died while imprisoned by Israel.  By all accounts Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh died from cancer.  Still, the Special Rapporteur has received credible allegations regarding inadequate health care that may amount to medical neglect.  Such allegations include a four-month delay in sending Mr. Abu Hamdiyeh to a hospital, providing him with the wrong medication, and then transferring him to an eye doctor when he was suffering from throat pain and had swollen lymph and salivary glands.  The Special Rapporteur was informed that Israel had denied Ms. Abu Hamdiyeh’s sons visitation rights for eleven years, and did not release him even when it was confirmed that his cancer was terminal.  Mr. Abu Hamdiyeh died chained to a bed in a prison, without the presence of – or even any chance to say goodbye to –his family. Mr. Abu Hamdiyeh’s death in these circumstances should be considered in the context of years of reports of lack of access to health care and medical neglect suffered by Palestinians detained by Israel.[22]  According to information provided to the Special Rapporteur, there have been at least 54 cases of clear medical neglect that have resulted in the deaths of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. 36. The sense of hopelessness grinded into Palestinian prisoners by Israel has caused many to launch hunger strikes.  Especially over the past year, prisoners have undertaken hunger strikes to protest their treatment and conditions of their detention, especially at Israel’s frequent mis-use of long-term detention without charges.[23]  At the time of finalizing this report, seven Palestinians were on hunger strikes:[24]  Samer Al-Barq; Samer Al-Issawi; Younis Al-Hroub; Muhammad Ahmad An-Najjar; Zakariyah Al-Heeh; Ibrahim Al-Sheikh Khalil; and Hazem Al-Tawil.  Each was protesting against being detained indefinitely without charges.  Samer Al-Issawi had been on a hunger strike for an extraordinarily long period and was in danger of death.  According to media reports, Israel was offering to release him on the condition that he would be forcibly deported to another country.  Such a deportation would likely violate article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forced transfer or deportation of protected persons from occupied territories.  This was, nonetheless, the treatment given to Ayman Sharawna, who ended his nearly seven month hunger strike in mid-March in return for deportation to Gaza for 10 years. 37. It is interesting to note that Messrs. Sharawna and Al-Issawi had been released from Israeli detention on 18 October 2011, in connection with the deal between Israel and Hamas that resulted in the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.  It should be of concern to Israelis, Palestinians and international actors that the Government of Israel appears increasingly willing to break the terms of that deal.  While 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Israeli authorities have since re-arrested at least 15 of the Palestinians who were released.  Twelve remained imprisoned at the time of finishing this report.  To the Special Rapporteur’s knowledge, none of those who were imprisoned were subject to any criminal or other charges.  Similarly, Israel has demonstrated its readiness to disregard the 14 May 2012 agreement reached with representatives of Palestinian prisoners that ended the hunger strike in which at least 1,000 Palestinians participated.  According to that agreement, in return for ending the hunger strike, Israel would remove prisoners from solitary confinement; allow family visits; limit the use of administrative detention; and make efforts to improve general conditions.[25]  All reports indicate that Israel has backtracked on each element.  Yet Israel’s unacceptable disregard of these commitments is part and parcel of its prolonged occupation of Palestine.  Israel’s detention regime, in particular, seems designed to disrupt Palestinian society, producing an atmosphere of arbitrariness, instability and powerlessness.  The Special Rapporteur reminds the international community that over 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the occupation began in June 1967 – equaling around 20 per cent of the Palestinian population. IV. Settlements 38. The Special Rapporteur continues to be concerned by Israel’s consistent and systematic expansion of settlements through subsidies, expropriations, house demolitions and demolition orders, granting permits for homes in settlements and intensifying the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources.  In the first quarter of 2013, Israel demolished 204 Palestinian homes and structures, displacing 379 Palestinians.[26] 39. The report of the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements reconfirmed that “the State of Israel has had full control of the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967 and continues to promote and sustain them through infrastructure and security measures”.  It concluded that “The establishment of the settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”.[27]  The process of “creeping annexation” that is slowly redrawing the contours of the West Bank contrasts with Israel’s purported annexation of East Jerusalem, but both are clearly violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 40. A lready in July 1979, twelve years after the first illegal Israeli settlement of Kefar Ezyon was established in the West Bank, the report of the Security Council’s Commission established under resolution 446 to examine the situation relating to settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, arrived at similar findings, namely that “… the pattern of that settlement policy […] is causing profound and irreversible changes of a geographical and demographic nature in those territories, including Jerusalem.”, and that “… in the implementation of its policy of settlements, Israel has resorted to methods – often coercive and sometimes more subtle – which included the control of water resources, the seizure of private properties, the destruction of houses and the banishment of persons, and has shown disregard for basic human rights, including in particular the right of the refugees to return to their homeland”.[28]  Among its recommendations, the Commission stated that “as a first step, Israel should be called upon to cease on an urgent basis the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the occupied territories. The question of the existing settlements would then have to be resolved”. 41. Almost 34 years later, and following another international fact-finding mission, Israel continues to flout, with total impunity, international humanitarian law, including the obligation as specified in Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention not to transfer its population into the occupied territory. Israel’s commitment to the settlement enterprise was succinctly expressed decades ago by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when he stated, as Minister of Defense:“In my opinion what determines our fate for many generations to come are the Jewish settlements.  Without underestimating the importance of war and military combat in the defense of our country, I think that in establishing settlements in the Galilee, in the Negev, in the Golan Heights, in Judea and Samaria, in the Jordan Valley and in the Gaza Strip I had the privilege as the chairman of the Settlement Affairs Ministers Committee and as the Defense Minister to decide about the establishing 230 settlements all over Israel, more than 60 of which in the Galilee.  To me, the settlements are the most important thing”.[29] 42. It is telling of Israel’s policy and intentions with regard to settlements that following the General Assembly accorded Palestine the status of non-member observer state at the United Nations on 29 November 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu authorized 3,000 new units in settlements.  Israel’s population registry indicates that the number of settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, grew by 4.5 per cent in 2012 to an estimated total of 650,000 settlers. 43. In the course of Israel’s unrelenting settlement expansion, a total of 6,676 residential units were approved in 2012, including 3,500 residential units intended for the controversial “E-1” corridor between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.  In its March 2013 report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the Government of Palestine explained that, “Construction in the Bab Ash-Shams/“E1” area […], would complete the Israeli wedge of settlements that stretches from occupied East Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea, thus separating the northern from the southern West Bank, and destroying all hope for a free, sovereign and viable State of Palestine”.[30] 44. In East Jerusalem, settlers continue their efforts to expand, including through forced evictions in the Old City, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, At-Tur, Wadi Joz, Ras al-Amud, and Jabal Al Mukabbir.  According to figures collected by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 299 Palestinians were displaced in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem this year in January and February, compared with 879 Palestinians displaced throughout 2012.[31] 45. The case of the Shamasneh family, in Sheikh Jarrah since 1964, but now subject to eviction proceedings against them by the General Custodian and Israeli Jewish landowners, is symptomatic of a wider trend. Although some Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah come under the provisions of the Protected Tenants Act 1972, the Shamasneh family reportedly are not eligible for protection as they did not have a written rent agreement with the Palestinian who sub-leased the property to them between 1964 and 1967.  A ruling on the case by the Israeli High Court is expected on 20 May 2013.[32] 46. In another case of forcible displacement of Palestinians, the Israeli Municipality and the Ministry of Transport are undertaking construction in Beit Safafa to complete a highway to serve the expansion of settlements in and around the southern part of East Jerusalem, and to expedite the annexation of Gush Etzion.  As usual, Palestinian residents were not consulted during the planning process and will not benefit from the highway, which will cut across the centre of Beit Safafa.  Instead, once the highway is completed, the residents of Beit Safafa will find themselves in a fragmented community with further loss of freedom of movement and access to essential services. Residents will lose the ability to use and develop property in proximity to the highway, and its value will fall, violating their collective right to develop the community.  The Special Rapporteur will closely follow the appeal by residents of Beit Safafa for an immediate stop order in the Israeli High Court scheduled on 26 June 2013.[33] 47. Settler violence continues unabated and affects Palestinians, including children living in communities located close to illegal settlements, on a daily basis.  146 cases of settler-related violence resulting in Palestinian casualties or property damage have been reported this year.[34] Incidents of settler violence range from physical assaults against Palestinians, including shooting live-firearms and stone-throwing, to vandalism against schools, mosques and private property.  Hundreds of olive trees and other agricultural assets owned by Palestinians have already been damaged this year.  Beyond the intended effect of intimidating and harming Palestinians, a worrying aspect of this violence has been the almost non-existent efforts of the IDF to protect Palestinians or to investigate settler abuses.  All too often, as repeatedly captured on video, Israeli forces arrive at the scene of violence instigated by Israeli settlers, standby as passive witnesses, or worse – respond by firing tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at the Palestinians.  If recently proposed new legislation to give settlers broader discretion to open fire and to allow more permissive rules of engagement, introduced by Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party and cabinet member is adopted, it will imbue settlers with a greater sense of impunity. 48. At the time of finalizing this report, Israel’s newly-formed coalition shows no sign of breaking with Israel’s policy of disregard for international law.  The Housing Minister, Uri Ariel, just before President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine, declared on television that “building will continue in accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far”.[35]  The Special Rapporteur believes that without Israel demonstrating good faith compliance with the Geneva Conventions with respect to settlements, the political preconditions for peace negotiations do not exist. V. Businesses that profit from Israeli settlements 49. The Special Rapporteur’s report[36] to the General Assembly in October 2012 focused attention on business enterprises that profit from Israeli settlements.  A central part of the report was the highlighting of a selection of businesses that have engaged in profit-making operations in relation to Israeli settlements. The Special Rapporteur noted his commitment to seeking clarification from these businesses and, in this respect, wishes to briefly mention the responses received from these businesses.  Additional recent developments in relation to businesses that profit from Israeli settlements are discussed thereafter. 50. Of the 13 businesses highlighted in the last report, responses were received from six: Assa Abloy; Cemex; Dexia; G4S; Motorola; and Volvo.  No reply was received from Ahava; Caterpillar; Elbit Systems; Hewlett-Packard; Mehadrin; The Riwal Holding Group; or Veolia Environment.  It is disappointing that the latter six businesses decided that it was not necessary to respond to allegations of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses and violations. Yet it is especially disappointing in the cases of Hewlett-Packard and Veolia Environment, as each has signed on to the United Nations Global Compact, which implies the good faith commitment to adhere to the guidelines for corporate behaviour. 51. Volvo’s response clarified that Merkavim no longer produces buses that transport prisoners from Palestine to Israel.  This is useful information.  However, Volvo repeated its argument that, while “it is regrettable and sad if our products are used for destructive purposes…we have no means to ultimately control how and where our products are used.” The Special Rapporteur notes that this line of argument has been adopted by other companies and intends to examine its adequacy against applicable international laws, standards and commitments in a future report. 52. Motorola’s response informed that “As a well-respected and responsible corporate citizen, our global activities are conducted in accordance with U.S., local, country and other applicable laws, as well as our own code of business conduct.  Our company has a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that address human rights that are designed to ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted with the highest standards of integrity.”  It is regrettable that this reply does not respond to the allegations, which were that Motorola provides surveillance and communications systems that constitute integral parts of the infrastructure of Israeli settlements and checkpoints along the wall, and that such systems facilitate the implementation of improper restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement within their own territory.  It would be of particular interest to know how Motorola’s due diligence policy takes account of such allegations, when Motorola considers additional sales to the State of Israel. 53. The Special Rapporteur received somewhat positive responses from Assa Abloy, Dexia, G4S and Cemex.  Assa Abloy clarified that its Mul-T-Locks factory was moved from Barkan, Palestine, to Yavne, Israel in 2011.  The Dexia response clarified that the relevant entity is Dexia Israel Limited (formerly Otszar Hashilton Hamekomi), and that Dexia Israel Limited, as a non-retail bank, does not provide credit to private individuals. It also confirmed that Dexia Israel Limited has a role in servicing loans from the Government of Israel to settlements.  G4S confirmed its intention to exit its contracts with the customers in question and further confirmed that such contracts expire from 2012 to 2015.  G4S also provided an overview of its progress in putting its human rights policies and practices in place, which it expects to do in 2013.  Cemex confirmed that it understands that Israel is the Occupying Power in Palestine, and clarified that its plants in Mishor Adumim, Mevoh Horon and Atarot produce exclusively concrete, not other construction materials.  Cemex asserted that the Yatir quarry is not an Israeli settlement, but referred in this connection to a decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice that characterized the matter as a political rather than a legal issue.  While Cemex also referred to the Occupying Power’s duty, under article 55 of the Hague Convention (1907), to safeguard the capital of the occupied State, the Special Rapporteur recalls that the profits from the quarry go to Cemex, which holds 50 per cent ownership, and Kfar Giladi Quarries. Still, the Special Rapporteur was encouraged to be informed that Cemex, in response to his report, is “considering the possibility of executing a new internal audit on the Cemex Israel [sic] concrete plants in order to check the present compliance with the UN Global Compact Group principles.” 54. International attention is increasingly drawn to the activities of Israeli and international business enterprises involved in profit-making in occupied Palestine. The Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli settlements denoted a range of potential violations that stem from such activities.[37]  The fact-finding mission concluded that “private entities have enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements, either directly or indirectly”.  The mission recommended that “[p]rivate companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps – including by terminating their business interests in the settlements – to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian people.  The mission further recommended that the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights be seized of the matter. 55. The case for action against businesses profiting from the Israeli occupation has been strengthened by recent reports from a wide range of actors. The report Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements, by 22 major international human rights and humanitarian organizations, made explicit links between the settlements, businesses and Israel’s critical trade with Europe.[38] A leading Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, reported on the responsibility of EU Members States for the huge settlement produce industry.[39]  Palestinian farming and civil society organizations collectively reported on the extent to which international trade with Israeli agricultural companies is destroying Palestinian agriculture.[40]  A confidential report by the EU heads of mission to Jerusalem contained recommendations to ensure that European consumers are not mis-led into purchasing settlement products that are labelled as originating from Israel.[41]  The EU report also called for EU citizens and companies to be informed of the financial and legal risks involved in purchasing property or providing services in Israeli settlements. Against this backdrop, according to media reports, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Catherine Ashton, wrote to EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs calling for enhanced efforts by Member States to fully and effectively enforce EU labelling legislation vis-à-vis Israel.  It is in this context of increasing awareness that the Special Rapporteur will continue to report on businesses that profit from Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine. VI. Recommendations 56. The International Committee of the Red Cross or a commission of inquiry composed of relevant international law experts should convene to examine issues particular to prolonged occupation and move toward a convention to address such occupations. 57. Israel must allow Palestinians to make use of their maritime area, up to 20 nautical miles in line with its commitments under the Oslo Agreements. 58. Israel should lift its illegal blockade of Gaza and clearly demarcate ARAs.  ARAs can only be established in line with applicable international legal standards and commitments undertaken by the State of Israel. 59. The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation, should finance the construction of a major desalination facility in Gaza; install solar networks for heat and electricity; and urgently improve sewage treatment to avoid further polluting of the Mediterranean Sea. 60. The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation and in direct consultation with farmers in Gaza, should support a shift in agricultural production in Gaza to less water-intensive crops, including by facilitating improved access to seeds; should support the improvement of irrigation networks; and should ensure that farmers can utilise their farmland. 61. The international community, with Israel’s full cooperation, should create a private patients’ fund that could be drawn upon to support medical treatment outside of Gaza as needed. 62. The international community should establish a commission of enquiry into the situation of Palestinians detained or imprisoned by Israel.  This enquiry should have a broad mandate, to examine Israel’s track record of impunity for prison officials and others who interrogate Palestinians. 63. The international community should investigate the activities of businesses that profit from Israel’s settlements, and take appropriate action to end any activities in occupied Palestine and ensure appropriate reparation for affected Palestinians. 64. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the support of the Human Rights Council, should establish a mechanism to support Special Rapporteurs who are subject to defamatory attacks, especially those that divert attention from the substantive human rights concerns relevant to their respective mandates.  


* Late submission.
[1] For the relevant criteria against which it must be judged, see http://csonet.org/?menu=30.
[3] For a summary of the charges and counter-charges see “TIMELINE: Israel launches Pillar of Defense amid Gaza escalation,” Haaretz, 20 November 2012 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/timeline-israel-launches-operation-pillar-of-defense-amid-gaza-escalation.premium-1.479284
[4] See “Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination,” Baskin, New York Times, 16 November 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/israels-shortsighted-assassination.html?_r=0%5D
[5] United States Department of State Press Release, 14 November 2012 http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200551.htm
[6] See Israeli assessment of Pillar of Defense in Shlomo Brom, ed., “Introduction,” The Aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense, Institute for National Security Studies, Memorandum 124, 2012.
[7] United Nations Country Team, occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza in 2020: A liveable place? August 2012 http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/gaza/Gaza%20in%202020.pdf
[8] For a graphic account see Mohammed Omer, “Anger at UNRWA in Gaza grows” Al Jazeera, 01 May 2013 http://www.aljazeera.com/humanrights/2013/04/20134294185559594.html
[9] The following is the verbatim English text:  1. Agreement of Understanding For a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.  A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.  B. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.  C. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.  D. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.  2. Implementation mechanisms:  A. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.  B. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.  C. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.
[10] OCHA Protection of Civilians Weekly Report, 19-25 February 2013, p.3
[11] GFO-DUO Gaza Weekly Update 18-24 March 2013
[12] OCHA Protection of Civilians Weekly Report, 19-25 February 2013
[13] State of Israel Ministry of Defense, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Gaza Crossing – Monthly report March 2013.
[15] See  the Special Rapporteur’s previous reports (A/HRC/7/17; A/66/358; A/HRC/20/32, and recent reports by the Special Committee on Israeli Practices (A/66/370 and A/67/550).
[16] See A/66/358, paras 34-40.
[18] See A/67/550 para 16.
[22] See, for recent examples, A/66/358 and A/67/550. See also Physician’s for Human Rights Israel, Oversight and Transparency in the Israeli Penal System, (July 2008), available at http://www.phr.org.il/uploaded/דוח%20שקיפות%20ובקרה.pdf.
[23] For video on administrative detention and hunger strikes, see http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php? option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8123
[24] See Addammeer, Eight on Hunger Strike: Hunger Strikes are the Weapon of Prisoners in the Fight Against Administrative Detention, 10 March 2013, available at: http://www.addameer.org/etemplate.php?id=584.
[26] OCHA Protection of Civilians Weekly Report 23-29 April 2013
[27] A/HRC/22/63).
[28] Report of the Security Council Commission Established Under Resolution 446 (1979), 12 July 1979 (S/13450) http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9785BB5EF44772DD85256436006C9C85
[30] Report of the Government of Palestine to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels, 19 March 2013, p.13
[31] OCHA Humanitarian Monitor Monthly Report February 2013, p.18
[32] Ibid., pp.12-15
[33] Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, Urgent Appeal for Action, 6 April 2013
[34] OCHA Protection of Civilians Report 30 April to 6 May 2013
[35] Israel Settlements Will Continue To Expand, Says New Housing Minister Uri Ariel, Reuters, posted 17 March 2013
[36] A/67/379.
[37] A/HRC/22/63.
[39] Feasting on the Occupation: Illegality of Settlement Produce and the Responsibility of EU Member States under International Law, available at http://www.alhaq.org/publications/Feasting-on-the-occupation.pdf.
[41] Copy on file with the Special Rapporteur.

A Brief Further Comment on Syria

25 Jul

 

            Some of the sharpest critics of my posts contend that I focus too much attention on Israel while exempting the far worse Syrian regime from any sort of harsh condemnation. In fact, I did write a post devoted to the Syrian situation on May 31, 2012 in which I referred to the criminal character of the Assad regime and pointed to such bloody deeds (Crimes Against Humanity) as the Houla massacre that had occurred a few days before. In my mind, there is no doubt that the behavior of the ruling clique in Damascus is genocidal, and should be condemned and appropriate international action undertaken to protect the people of Syria.

 

            But what is appropriate in such a situation is far from self-evident. The clarity of condemnation should not be confused with devising a prescription for action. Military intervention rarely succeeds, violates the right of self-determination, and often expands the scope and severity of violence, especially if carried out from the air. Furthermore, we know little about the opposition in Syria, to what extent its governance of the country would be based on the rule of law and human rights. There are confusing reports about rebel atrocities as well as concerning the role of Al Qaeda operatives leading some of the rebel forces, and also indications that Gulf money and weapons have been supplied to these forces ever since the beginning of the anti-Damascus uprising. Every government has the right to fight against its internal enemies, especially if heavily assisted by hostile external forces, although that right must be exercised within the framework of constraints imposed by international humanitarian law.

 

            Reflecting this complexity, the leading governments have turned to the UN as the least bad option, and its former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to do all in his power to bring the killing to an end, and broker some sort of political compromise. So far it seems that neither side is prepared to lay down its arms, and so the killing goes on. The UN response seems feeble, and it is, but in the absence of a better alternative, it is the best that the organized international community can do at this stage, especially given the standoff between the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In this regard, with all sorts of factors at play, the Syrian slaughterhouse is best interpreted as a tragic predicament for those outside the country and a tragedy for those trapped within.

 

            Finally, it is certainly true that I have given overwhelming emphasis on my blog to the Israel/Palestine conflict. This is due partly to my recent work as a UN appointee, partly because I feel the United States through its diplomacy and financial contributions is so deeply and unacceptably involved in the conflict, and partly, no doubt, a matter of accidents of birth, friendship, and experience. In the period between 1965-75 I was comparably preoccupied with opposing the Vietnam War. I offer no apologies for either of these preoccupations, but readily admit that I could have chosen others.

Pros and Cons of Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle

11 Jul

 

            The posture of solidarity with the struggle of ‘the other’ is more complex than it might appear at first glance. It seems a simple act to join with others in opposing severe injustice and cruelty, especially when its reality is experienced and witnessed first-hand as I have for several decades in relation to the Palestinian struggle. I was initially led to understand the Palestinian (counter-) narrative by friends while still a law student in the late 1950s. But my engagement was more in the spirit of resisting what Noam Chomsky would later teach us to call ‘indoctrination in a liberal society,’ a matter of understanding how the supposedly objective media messes with our mind in key areas of policy sensitivity, and none has turned out in the West, especially in North America, to be more menacingly stage managed than the presentation of Palestinians and their struggle, which merge with sinister forms of racial and religious profiling under the labels of ‘the Arab mind’ and ‘Muslim extremism.’ The intended contrast to be embedded in Western political consciousness is between the bloodthirsty Arab/Palestinian/Muslim and the Western custodian of morality and human rights.

 

            Perhaps, for very personal reasons I had since childhood taken the side of the less privileged in whatever domain the issue presented itself, whether in sports or family life or in relation to race and sexual identity, and professionally, in foreign policy. Despite being white and attracted sexually only to women, I found myself deeply moved by the ordeal in democratic America of African Americans, gays, and later, members of indigenous communities. I have sustained these affinities despite a long career that involved swimming upstream in the enclaves of the privileged as a longtime member of the Princeton University faculty.

 

            In recent years, partly by chance, most of these energies of solidarity have been associated with the Palestinian struggle, which has involved mainly in my case the bearing of witness to abuses endured by the Palestinian people living under occupation or in varying forms of exile, especially in my role as UN Special Rapporteur. This is an unpaid position, and affords me a much higher degree of independence than is enjoyed by normal UN career civil servants or diplomats serving a particular government. Many of these individuals work with great dedication and taken on dangerous assignments, but are expected to conform to institutional discipline that is exercised in a deadly hierarchical manner that often links the UN to the grand strategy and geopolitical priorities of a West-centric world order. This structure itself seems more and more out of step with the rise of the non-West in the last several decades. Just days ago the Indian representative at the UN called for a restructuring of the Security Council to get rid of its anachronistic cast of characteristics that overvalues the West and undervalues the rest.

 

            Bearing witness involves being truthful and as factually accurate as possible, regardless of what sort of consensus is operative in the corridors of power. In a biased media and a political climate that is orchestrated from above, the objectivity of bearing witness will itself be challenged as ‘biased’ or ‘one-sided’ whenever it ventures onto prohibited terrain. In actuality, the purpose of bearing witness is to challenge bias, not to perpetuate it, but in our Orwellian media world, it is bias that is too often presented as balanced, and truth witnessing that is either ignored or derided.

 

             The witness of unwelcome truths should always exhibit a posture of humility, not making judgments about the tactics of struggle employed by those fighting against oppression, and not supplying the solutions for those whose destinies are directly and daily affected by a deep political struggle. To do otherwise is to pretend to be thea purveyor of greater wisdom and morality than those enduring victimization. In the Palestine/Israel conflict it is up to the parties, the peoples themselves and their authentic representatives, to find the path to a sustainable and just peace, although it seems permissible for outsiders to delineate the distribution of rights that follow from an application of international law and to question whether the respective peoples are being legitimately represented.

 

            These comments reflect my reading of a passionate and provocative essay by Linah Alsaafin entitled “How obsession with ‘non-violence’ harms the Palestinian cause,” which was published online in the Electronic Intifada on July 11, 2012. The burden of her excellent article is the insistence that it is for the Palestinians, and only the Palestinians, to decide on the forms and nature of their resistance. She writes with high credibility as a recent graduate of Birzeit University who was born in Cardiff, Wales and lived in England and the United States, as well as Palestine. She persuasively insists that for sympathetic observers and allies to worship at the altar of Palestinian non-violence is to cede to the West the authority to determine what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of Palestinian struggle. This is grotesquely hypocritical considering the degree to which Western militarism is violently unleashed around the planet so as to maintain structures of oppression and exploitation, more benignly described as ‘national interests.’ In effect, the culturally sanctioned political morality of the West is indicative of an opportunistically split personality: nonviolence for your struggle, violence for ours. Well-meaning liberals, by broadcasting such an insidious message, are not to be welcomed as true allies.

 

            In this connection, I acknowledge my own carelessness in taking positive note of this shift in Palestinian tactics in the direction of nonviolent forms of resistance, being unwittingly paternalistic, if not complicit with an unhealthy ‘tyranny of the stranger.’ It is certainly not the case that Alsaafin is necessarily advocating Palestinian violence, but rather she is contending that unless the Palestinians realize that they must mobilize their own masses to shape their own destiny, which leads her to lament because it is not yet happening, nothing will change, and the occupiers and oppressors will continue to dominate the Palestinian scene. In effect, Alsaafin is telling us that deferring to Western canons of struggle is currently dooming Palestinians to apathy and despair.

 

            I find most of what Alsaafin has to say to be persuasive, illuminating, and instructive, although I feel she neglects to take note of the courage and mobilizing impact of the prison hunger strikes that have ignited the imagination of many Palestinians in recent months. Also, to some extent, my highlighting of nonviolence was never intended as an input into the Palestinian discourse or as favorable commentary, but seeks to challenge and expose the untrustworthiness of Western liberals who have for years been lecturing the Palestinians to abandon violence for the sake of effectiveness, arguing that a supposedly democratic and morally sensitive society such as they allege exists in Israel would be responsive to a nonviolent challenge by the Palestinians, and this would in turn lead to a more reasonable and fair negotiating approach by the Israelis out of which a just peace could emerge.  As should have been understood by the harsh Israeli responses to both intifadas, Israel turns a blind eye to Palestinian nonviolence, or even does its best to provoke Palestinian violence so as to have some justification for its own. And the usually noisy liberal pontificators such as Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof go into hiding whenever Palestinian creativity in resistance does have recourse to nonviolent tactics. These crown princes of liberal internationalism were both silent throughout the unfolding and dramatic stories of the various long hunger strikes. These were remarkable examples of nonviolent dedication that bear comparison with Gandhi’s challenges hurled at the British Empire or the later efforts of the IRA to awaken London to the horrors of prison conditions in Northern Ireland, and certainly were newsworthy.

 

            At the same time, there are some universal values at stake that Alsaafin does not pause to acknowledge. There are two of these truths intertwined in bewildering complexity: no outsider has the moral authority or political legitimacy to tell those enduring severe oppression how to behave; no act of violence whatever the motivation that is directed against an innocent child or civilian bystander is morally acceptable or legally permissible even if it seems politically useful. Terrorism is terrorism whether the acts are performed by the oppressor or the oppressed, and for humanity to move toward any kind of collective emancipation, such universal principles must be affirmed as valid, and respected by militants.

 

            Also absent from the article is any effort to situate the Palestinian struggle in an historical and geographic context. There are tactical realities in some situations of conflict that may make those who act in solidarity a vital part of the struggle that participate on the basis of their own political calculus. The Vietnamese recognized the importance of an autonomous Western peace movement in weakening the will of the American political establishment to continue with the Vietnam War. The global anti-apartheid campaign turned the tide in South Africa, and allowed the internal forces led by the African National Congress to prevail in their long struggle against settler colonial rule and racism. We all need to remember that each struggle has its own originality that is historically, politically, and culturally conditioned, and the Palestinian struggle is no exception.

 

            As Alsaafin powerfully reminds us who attempt to act in solidarity, while she is addressing a related message to the Palestinians, it is for the Palestinians to exert leadership and find inspiration, and for the rest of us to step to one side.  We must be humble for our sake as well as theirs, they must be assertive, and then our solidarity might make a welcome contribution a rather than unintentionally administering a mild depressant.   

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