Tag Archives: Human rights

Human Rights Award to Shireen Issawi

18 Dec

Alkarama Human Rights Award to Shireen Issawi

 

[Prefatory Note: in this post I am presenting in the following order remarks that I made via Skype video recording at the 6th Annual Alkarama Award for Human Rights at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, December 14, 2014, a letter written from an Israeli prison by the recipient of the award, Shireen Issawi, and a press release prepared by the Alkarama Foundation describing the full event, including notable presentation by Norman Finkelstein and Alfred de Zayas. The Alkarama website describes itself as follows: “Alkarama is a Swiss-based, independent human rights organisation established in 2004 to assist all those in the Arab World subjected to, or at risk of, extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. Acting as a bridge between individual victims in the Arab world and international human rights mechanisms, Alkarama works towards an Arab world where all individuals live free, in dignity and protected by the rule of law. In Arabic, Alkarama means dignity.”]

 

 

 

Remarks of Richard Falk

 

I wish that I could have been present to take part in honoring Shireen Issawi as a brave, resolute, and inspiring human rights defender who has dedicated her professional career as a lawyer to the long Palestinian national struggle for freedom, human rights, and self-determination. Even more, I wish that Ms. Issawi could be present to receive this award in person rather than sitting alone in her jail cell day after day, facing trumped up charges of resisting arrest when the real criminal offense was committed by the arresting officers in carrying out an abusive arrest in a manner calculated to invoke fear and trembling. We realize that the political situation in Palestine is perverted when the real criminals are administering the law while the truly innocent are sitting in the dock awaiting a punishment meted out by a biased judicial process. Shireen’s life story, that of the whole Issawi family, and indeed that of the Palestinian people as a whole, is an embodiment of this prolonged perversion of justice, and as we honor her on this day we also are seeking to remind the world that it is past time to end the Palestinian ordeal.

 

In my own experience as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine in the period 2008-2014 I had my own slight taste of how the wheels of Israeli injustice grind on while most of the world averts its gaze. Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in December 2008, with the intention of carrying out my mission of investigation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, I was detained for several hours at the airport before being transferred to a nearby makeshift prison where I remained overnight, expelled the following morning. The whole experience was not longer than 20 hours, but being confined with five other prisoners in a small cell that smelled of urine, was over lit and filthy, gave me an unforgettable glimpse of Israel prison life. It should be kept in mind that in my case Israel as a member of the UN had a treaty obligation to cooperate with the Organization so as to facilitate its official undertakings. Quite revealing as to the limits of international law, was the failure of the UN even to protest Israel’s breach of its duties as a UN member or my treatment as someone attempting to carry out a UN mission. An Israeli government spokesperson lied to the media by saying that I had been warned not to come to Israel as I would be denied entry. Contrary to this contention, the truth is otherwise. When we submitted our proposed itinerary of visits in Occupied Palestine to the Israeli mission in Geneva there was no objection or warning, and in fact, Israel issued visas to my two assistants knowing that they would be accompanying me. What is again emblematic is that the mainstream media wrote about the incident on the basis of the lies told by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and lacked the journalistic decency to check with me, and at least hear my side of the story or allow me to respond myself. One reason why this Alkarama event is so important is as counter to Israeli lies and hasbara (the systematic slanting of world news to support Israel’s claims), a bit of witnessing about real happenings.

 

My UN job was to assess Israel’s human rights record in its role as an occupying power governed by international humanitarian law, and specifically, the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is the principal treaty instrument for regulating belligerent occupation. In its general applicability, Geneva IV prohibits harming all those subject to the authority of an occupying power that are uninvolved in active resistance. This refers especially to the civilian population, but also extends to those detained in prisons and even to the treatment of wounded soldiers. Above all, it obliges the occupier to maintain human rights in territories under its administration, to provide decent living conditions for the occupied population, and not to change underlying conditions in a manner that allows the occupied society to resume its normal existence when the occupier leaves. As I became familiar with Israel’s policies and practices, I became more and more convinced that neither the letter nor the spirit of the Geneva Convention was being observed by Israel, which is a legalistic way of informing the world that the daily life of every Palestinian was nightmarish in myriad ways.

 

Overall, rather than maintaining a temporary occupation, Israel from the outset fundamentally encroached upon the future prospects of the Palestinian people to realize their rights in two fundamental ways: first, by building and expanding settlements for as many as 650,000 settlers, then by constructing a network of settler only roads to link the settlement blocs with Israel, and by building an ugly separation wall that turned out to be a thinly disguised land grabbing exercise. These developments were each flagrant violations of Article 49(6) of Geneva IV and in defiant disregard of the authoritative 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. Again the pattern observed is one of massive and severe Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights standards aggravated by a lack of political will within the UN or in international diplomacy to take any enforcement action designed to uphold Palestinian rights.

 

And secondly, by engaging in various forms of collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population, thereby violating Article 33 of Geneva IV that unconditionally prohibits all forms of collective punishment. I will mention two of the most notorious practices, although there are many others that contribute to the ordeal of ordinary Palestinian lives, including closures, curfews, checkpoints, restrictions on mobility. The blockade imposed on the entire civilian population of Gaza since mid-2007 is a comprehensive and cruel form of collective punishment imposed by Israel as soon as Hamas assumed governing authority, which has been gravely intensified in its adverse effects by three major Israeli military onslaughts in the last six years against an essentially defenseless population, and exhibit the deliberate reliance by Israel on excessive and disproportionate force producing heavy one-sided casualties on defenseless Palestinians who have no place to hide and are denied an option to leave the combat zone, and thus are unable to exercise the default escape option of becoming refugees.

 

A second form of unlawful collective punishment involves house demolitions carried out against the family residence of those Israel convicted of security crimes. Due to an international uproar this practice was abandoned by Israel for ten years, but has been revived and applied in some recent cases, cruelly depriving a family of their dwelling place so as to allow the Israeli state to avenge an alleged crime of resistance committed by a Palestinian who is often no longer even alive.

 

In the background is an occupation that has gone on far too long, and in the process has become something other than a holding operation until agreed arrangements for withdrawal can be implemented. It should be recalled that Israel was instructed to withdraw from occupied Palestine in Security Council Resolution 242 unanimously adopted back in 1967, incorporating the international law principle that territory could not be acquired by a state through the use of force. Not only has a failure to implement this principle, but a contradictory process has taken place over the course of more than four decades, which has transformed ‘occupation’ into de facto ‘annexation’ and has distorted the IHL duty to protect an occupied people into an oppressive administrative structure of systematic discrimination, a clear instance of apartheid that is defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a distinct crime against humanity.

 

The Palestinian people have struggled over the years, and have experienced many frustrations and defeats. Their early hopes of being liberated by their Arab neighbors were dashed in a series of failed wars. Their expectations that UN resolutions supporting their basic claims would be implemented were consistently disappointed. The energetic PLO efforts after the 1967 to gain freedom by armed resistance came to nothing so far as a lasting solution is concerned. And in the most recent period, the false optimism associated with the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles and the handshake on the White House lawn led to a growing disillusionment among Palestinians that such a diplomatic path would ever produce a just and sustainable peace.

 

With such an anguishing experience of frustration, disappointment, and defeat, it is not surprising that the Palestinians would seek other ways to achieve their rights. This search in recent years has centered on nonviolent militancy, involving various forms of non-cooperation at home and pressures brought to bear on Israel through a global solidarity movement. The roots of this turn to nonviolence can be traced to the first Intifada of 1987, a popular mobilization from below that expressed impatience with diplomacy from above and the tactics used by their own Palestinian PLO leadership. It is in the last decade that this turn to nonviolence has gathered momentum, official endorsement, and caught on internationally by way of the Palestinian led BDS Campaign and through various expressions of resistance to the occupation that has included ad hoc recourse to violence by individual Palestinians acting on their own seemingly in pursuit of some kind of remedial vengeance, having lost faith in any peaceful outcome and finding the daily ordeal of their situation unendurable.

 

One of the most vivid forms of nonviolent resistance is expressed by the hunger strikes of abused Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including the extraordinary strike of Samer Issawi, Shireen’s brother, who reportedly refused food for an incredible 266 days. As with other efforts of Palestine to achieve a just peace, this turn to nonviolence has fallen below the radar screen of mainstream Western media that remains ever vigilant in magnifying the occurrence of every terrorist incident while by and large ignoring Israeli state terrorism, which is far deadlier in its humanitarian impacts. By honoring Shireen Issawi we repudiate such indifference to nonviolent resistance and at the same time invoke our commitment to nonviolence as the path to peace based on rights and justice, and also on the inalienable equality of the two peoples. In the end, it is less significant to talk about one state or two than to encourage discussion of how might these two peoples live peaceably together in view of all that has happened, is happening.

 

Let me end with some words of Reem al-Nimer from her brave book Curse of the Achille Lauro: “..I was once an active member of the Palestinian resistance and the wife of a Palestinian commando..Both Arabs and Jews are human beings. Both are entitled to a dignified life. The time has come when this bloodshed must end. We all have lives..The end of occupation and the termination of hostilities means that Arabs and Jews will need to accept the idea of living alongside one another. We have done this before 1948, and we can do it again. This is the foundation. This is the basis of peace.”

 

 

 

Shireen Issawi’s letter from prison accepting the award

 

In the name of God the Merciful,

 

I thank you for having awarded me the Alkarama Award, which I would like to share with all human beings carrying the flag of justice to enlighten, by the light of freedom, the night of injustice, as well as with all people who have adopted the just Palestinian cause, participated in their own way to support the march of the Palestinian people towards freedom, and the cause of Palestinian detainees in the occupier’s prisons, especially those conducting a hunger strike.

 

I obviously share this Award with my brother, Samer Al Issawi, “Samer Dignity”, who led the battle for freedom with an empty stomach, through the longest hunger strike in the history of mankind, and who unified us to become a single hand and a single voice before the injustice of the occupation, through his just battle for his freedom and his right to live in dignity.

 

I share the prize with my father and my mother, who taught us, me and my brothers, the love of our homeland and of dignity to continue on the path of freedom. Thank goodness the Palestinian people are not alone; other people share this struggle with him — whether those seeking their freedom, or those carrying our voice throughout the world for a better future where we will live freely and in a dignified manner, and where love will reign without bloodshed.

 

Some believe that the Palestinian people are defeated because they lives under occupation. Such an assertion is far from the truth; the Palestinian people are one of the proudest people who breathe and they feed on the love of their homeland. They do not feel defeated, they are defending their right to freedom and dignity; on the contrary, however inhumane the occupation is with its ability to block, kill and destroy, we must sustain the strength and courage to continue until we achieve our freedom. And that’s why the free men and women of the world gather around the just cause of the Palestinians, and brought their flag of freedom to the world, becoming their voice in the face of injustice.

 

The combination of the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian resistance against the occupation, and of the supporters of justice and freedom has united us as human beings through the silent language of faith in a trinity of virtues, which gives strength to our people — that is, the trinity of dignity, freedom and hope.

 

Humanity is the interest that we bear for each other, and our defense of the oppressed. The sense of freedom and its value can be understood only by those whose hearts beat for dignity and whose eyes shine with the hope that the sun will rise despite the darkness of the night. Let’s preserve our unity and our humanity to live in a free world where people can live freely with dignity and hope.

 

Shireen Al Issawi

Hasharon Prison, Israel

 

6 November 2014

 

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16 December 2014 Item title

2014 Alkarama Award Honours Palestinian Lawyer’s Commitment to Non-Violence as the “Path to Peace”

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Geneva, 13 December 2014

On 11 December 2014, the Alkarama Foundation presented its 6th annual Award for Human Rights Defenders in the Arab world to Palestinian human rights lawyer and activist, Shireen Issawi, in recognition of her courage and bravery in defending Palestinian prisoners and advocating for their rights. The ceremony held at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva focused on the Palestinian people’s strategy of non-violent resistance, a story largely under-reported in the mainstream media.

 

Speaking at the event were UN and international law experts, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein and Alfred de Zayas, as well as Palestinian Member of the Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, and Swiss political personalities, Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold and Guy Mettan. In the absence of Shireen, arrested by the Israeli authorities on 6 March 2014 as part of a crackdown on lawyers defending Palestinian prisoners, the Award was presented to her parents, Layla and Tarek Issawi.

 

Opening the ceremony, Rachid Mesli, Alkarama‘s Legal Director said: “Thousands of Palestinians are arbitrarily detained by simple administrative decision, including numerous children. […] It is for denouncing these violations and having dedicated her life to justice and freedom for the Palestinian people that Shireen Issawi also finds herself in jail today, accused – like too many Arab activists in their respective countries – of supporting terrorism or terrorist organisations.”

“Shireen Issawi’s nonviolent resistance forms a link in the chain of a long, honourable tradition. It includes not only names familiar to all of us, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but also, and more significantly, the nameless Palestinians who waged a heroic mass nonviolent struggle against the Israeli occupation during the first intifada, that began 27 years ago, on 9 December 1987,” said expert of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Norman Finkelstein. “Shireen Issawi’s unbendable will in a righteous cause serves as a luminous example, not just for Palestinians, but also for everyone struggling to make the world a better place.”

 

“Shireen Issawi is a brave, resolute and inspiring human rights defender who has dedicated her professional career as a lawyer to the long Palestinian national struggle for freedom and self-determination,” added former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk. “By honouring Shireen Issawi we are expressing our commitment to nonviolence as the path to peace based on rights and justice, and on the equality of the two peoples. […] As we honour her, we are also seeking to remind the world that it is past time to end the ordeal of injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people as a whole.”

“Israel annexed the territory of East Jerusalem but not the Palestinians who were born and live there,” explained Haneen Zoabi, recently banned from all parliamentary activity for six months for having suggested that the Palestinian resistance was a legitimate struggle. “One third of the city’s residents are people without citizenship. They live in a country that views their territory as its own but does not view them as part of it.”

 

“In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall, we said ‘never again’ walls that separate peoples. Now there are walls everywhere, walls that not only separate two peoples and two cultures, but also make the building of a lasting peace impossible,” continued former member of the Swiss Parliament and the Council of Europe, Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold. In a moving speech, she recalled the many instances where the international community had said “never more” such as after the Shoah, which had led to the adoption of an international human rights system – a system which no one should ever take for granted. [In Switzerland] we are free; but it is from you [Shireen] that we learn how important it is to fight for the protection of human rights.”

 

In a letter written from her solitary cell on 6 November and read by her mother, Layla Issawi at the Alkarama Award ceremony, Shireen stated: “Some believe that the Palestinian people are defeated because they live under the occupation. Their hypothesis is far from the truth. Those who defend their inalienable right to freedom and dignity are not defeated. On the contrary, however inhumane the occupation and its ability to arrest, kill and destroy are, these men must have the strength and courage to continue until they get their freedom.” Thanking “all the free men around the world gathered around the just cause of the Palestinians,” Shireen pleaded for “a world in which people can live free, with dignity and hope.”

Speaking on behalf of his daughter, Tarek Issawi echoed his daughter’s words: “We, in Palestine, defend the dignity of our people, despite the injustice imposed on us by the colonisation. We are certain that our struggle is just, and thank all the free people of this world for their continuous support.”

 

Closing the ceremony, the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a democratic and international order, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas praised Shireen and her family’s “courage and perseverance” and emphasized the essential right of the Palestinian people to self-determination: “All international law experts have recognised the right to self-determination, a binding right, enshrined in the UN Charter, in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The UN General Assembly has recognised the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and this repeatedly. Alas, for the past 67 years, you have suffered expulsion, occupation, humiliation and injustice. But you have kept your honour, your identity and your will to live. Men and women of good will wish you a free and independent State where you will finally be able to exercise your rights and join all the other nations of the world in international solidarity. I hope you get justice and peace in a near future. You deserve it.”

 

The ceremony attracted over a hundred people at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva and watched by a further 150 people on Alkarama’s live webcast.

 

For more information on the award, please click here: http://bit.ly/1r46pdh

Or watch this 12min documentary here: http://bit.ly/16oeBgk

You can also watch the whole ceremony on the following link: http://youtu.be/wLKqde508L8

For photos, quotes or an interview with any of the speakers, please contact:

- Colombe Vergès, Media Coordinator on c.verges@alkarama.org / +41 79 129 79 15

- Hassan Nouhaili, Arabic Media Editor on h.nouhaili@alkarama.org / +41 22 734 10 06

 

 

 

 

 

An Indispensable Book on Palestine/Israel

8 Feb

Responding to Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland by Pamela Olson (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press)

 

I realize that without knowing it, I have long waited for this book, although I could not have imagined its lyric magic in advance of reading. It is a triumph of what I would call ‘intelligent innocence,’ the great benefits of a clear mind, an open and warm heart, and a trustworthy moral compass that draws sharp lines between good and evil while remaining ever sensitive to the contradictory vagaries of lives and geographic destinies. Pamela Olson exhibits an endearing combination of humility and overall emotional composure that makes her engaged witnessing of the Palestinian ordeal so valuable for me as I believe and hope it will be for others.

 

Early on, she acknowledges her lack of background with refreshing honesty: “Green and wide-eyed, I wandered into the Holy Land, an empty vessel.” But don’t be fooled. Olson, who had recently graduated from Stanford, almost immediately dives deeply into the daily experience of Palestine and Palestinians, with luminous insight and a sensibility honed on an anvil of tenderness, truthfulness, and a readiness for adventure and romance. Upon crossing the border that separates Israel from the West Bank, enduring routine yet frightening difficulties at the checkpoint, she find herself in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, not far from the Palestinian city of Jenin. Her first surprise is the welcoming warmth of the villagers whose hospitality makes her feel almost as if she is on a homecoming visit to Stigler, the small town in eastern Oklahoma where she grew up. Almost at once Olson finds herself in the midst of a social circle in Jayyous that harvests olives during the day and sits together on porches in the evening puffing on a nargila (water pipe) and conversing about the world.

 

Olson’s authenticity pervades the book, whether it is a matter of adoring the cuisine or acknowledging her infatuation with a Palestinian young man who crosses her path. She learns to speak a bit of Arabic, reads up on the struggle, and stays alert. The style of the book is an enchanting mixture of personal journal, travelogue, political primer on the conflict, and coming of age memoir. She writes with clarity, humor, and self-scrutiny (in a tone of almost asking herself, ‘Who is this girl from rural Oklahoma who is experiencing this extraordinary encounter with people and the sad conditions of their lives?’).

 

As the title implies, it is primarily a book about Palestine and what occupation means for Palestinians trapped under Israeli military rule for more than 45 years, and how their extraordinary qualities of humane coping make Jayyous and Ramallah so inspirational for her.  It instills an intense longing to return and share the dangers and deprivations, which are more powerfully satisfying than the pleasures of ‘freedom.’ (I am reminded of a friend from Gaza, a leading human rights activist, whose family has been living in Cairo in recent years. He tells me that when he plans a vacation, his university age children who are studying abroad insist on going to Gaza rather than Paris or London.)

 

Yet the book is sensitive to the tragic experiences of both peoples. Through the whole of her experience, Olson remains open to her Israeli friend, Dan, as well as to a Christian appreciation of the Holy Land, not as a believer but as someone whose identity was formed in a religiously Christian community. Early on in the book, when she tells Dan how disturbed she is by the occupation, he reminds her of Israeli grief and distress. Dan’s words: “Last year there was a suicide bombing practically every week, it was… unbelievable. The mall we went to yesterday was bombed last year. Three weeks ago a suicide bomber killed twenty people in a restaurant in Haifa. Just innocent people having a meal.” Olson’s response is characteristically empathetic: “I sighed and looked out over the water. What I had seen in the West Bank was terrible, but there was another side to the story, after all. I tried to imagine the horror of people sitting around having a meal, and then all of a sudden—” But in the end it becomes clear that Israel’s human rights violations have, if anything, a negative impact on Israeli security.

 

One of the most moving chapters is a description of a visit by Olson’s mother and stepfather. She pressured them to come so that “they would never have to wonder whether I had exaggerated either the beauty or the horror.” Because this was her mother’s first trip outside of America, she saw what was to be seen with fresh eyes. This experience produced joy and wonder along with tearful reactions at checkpoints, such as: “Good Lord… How can this be happening over here and no one in America even knows or cares?” Is this not the question we should all have been asking for decades? During the visit, they also spend time touring the Christian sites in and around Jerusalem and the Galilee that are particularly meaningful to her religious mother.

 

The timeline of the book covers 2003-2005. But the essentials of the occupation emerge, especially the encroachment of the separation wall, the settlements, and checkpoints, and what it means for a Palestinian to live day by day under systematic violations of human rights that show no sign of ending in the foreseeable future. When Olson inserts information about history, Israeli and Palestinian politics, international law and elementary morality, she is accurate, concise, and perceptive. She also is honest enough not to suppress her emotional responses to some extreme situations.

 

In the end what gives the book its special value is the compelling credibility of her “love affair with a homeless homeland,” a sub-title that says it all! It is one thing to lament the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians or to condemn the cruelty and harshness of the Israeli occupation. It is quite another to be able to observe these defining realities and yet see beyond to a proud and gracious people with a generous sense of humor who manage to live as vibrantly as possible even under almost unimaginable circumstances of oppression. It is this combination of feeling the Palestinian hurt while celebrating the warmth and genuineness of the Palestinian embrace that allows a reader to achieve what I had previously thought impossible without an immersion in the place itself. Olson is a twenty-first century example of how a reassuringly normal American woman might best visit the Arab world. She is intensely curious, with a gift for observation and dialogue and a sensibility that is not afraid of danger or to acknowledge shades of gray or to register her disappointments with others, and above all with herself. Her own evolution is also relevant, from a ‘Bible-centric’ youth in Oklahoma to a scientifically oriented skepticism to a wonderfully caring person who managed to have this incredible ‘love affair’ with occupied Palestine, amid the ruins. In her words, “I couldn’t imagine a better university of human nature.”

 

Obviously Pamela Olson is blessed with talent. A girl from rural Oklahoma who had to struggle to find the funds to attend college does not make it to the likes of Stanford very often, where she majors in physics and political science, nor does the typical graduate defer entering the job market and go about exploring the world to find out what it is like, and how best to live her life. It is thus not entirely surprising that after her experiences in Palestine, Olson returned to work for a ‘Defense Department think tank’ to try to understand why American foreign policy was so dysfunctional, and found it ‘educational but disillusioning.’ She lasted less than two years before deciding to write Fast Times in Palestine, her attempt to bring what she learned in Palestine directly to the American people.

 

I have the following daydream: If everyone in America could just sit down quietly and read this book, there would be such an upsurge of outrage and empathy that the climate of opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict would finally change for the better—even in the polluted air that now prevails within the Beltway. At the very least, as many people as possible should read the book, and if your reaction is similar to mine, give a copy to friends and encourage them to spread the word. We in America should stop subsidizing and facilitating the systematic creation of ‘a homeless homeland.’ As a close friend in Jayyous named Rania tells Pamela, “Imagine if there was no occupation! Palestine would be like paradise.”

 

The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon. It will be available in mid-March. 
http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Times-Palestine-Homeless-Homeland/dp/158005482X

I urge you to do so!

 

Forget ‘Normal’ Politics

5 Feb

 

 

            Political life is filled with policy choices that are made mainly on the basis of calculations of advantage, as well as reflecting priorities and values of those with the power of decision. In a constitutional framework of governance the rule of law sets outer limits as to permissible outcomes. The legitimacy of the decision depends on adhering to these procedural guidelines, and the fact that if the societal effects turn out badly it can be corrected by altering the ‘law.’ Of course, all sorts of special interests behind the scene manipulate this process, and the public debate mirrors these pressures. The results of highly contested policy choices usually reflect the power structure (class, race, ideology) more than they do the outcome of rational detached assessments of the public good. At present, the national public good in the United States is being held hostage to the lethal extremism of the gun lobby as led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which combines special interest politics with a political culture that is violent and militarist. Such a political culture seems unlikely to be able to prohibit the sale of automatic assault weaponry to private citizens even in the immediate aftermath of a series of horrific shootings in American schools and public spaces by individuals gaining access to assault rifles and pistols.

 

            If we agree with this line of interpretation, we must have the courage to raise radical questions as to whether under these conditions a flawed democracy is any longer capable of serving the national public good in fundamental respects. In my view, the only morally responsible position is to mobilize the citizenry around the need for drastic reform of American democracy. At the very least, the role of big money in shaping policy choices and the electoral process must be ended, and the glorification of violence and militarism must be repudiated. To seek such results a reliance on  normal politics is to inhabit the land of illusion. In some respects, a revolutionary situation is present in the country but a revolutionary movement is no where to be seen. Only utopian reasoning can be hopeful about the future of the country, and it is the case of hope against hope. 

 

            This politicization of policy choice is to some extent inevitable, and is usually not so threatening to the wellbeing of a country, but at present there are increasingly harmful repercussions that follow, also with respect to global stability and security. Within societies where policy choice depends on governmental action there is a play of contending forces, but the outcome is at least coherently oriented around a shared commitment to the national public good. Internationally, in contrast, there are no social forces, other than transnational civil society actors (NGOs), that are dedicated to the global public good. Governments, including that of the United States, determine and justify national policy choices by reference to the pursuit of national interests. When a dominant state opts to play a global leadership role as the United States did after 1945, it can sometimes promote a type of imperial world order that is beneficial to itself, but also at the same time helpful to most other states and to the human community generally. Such initiatives as financing the economic reconstruction of Western Europe, the establishment of the United Nations, and the promotion of international human rights illustrate such a convergence of national and global interests. But note that global interests, aside from civil society advocacy groups, have no independent base of support. Even the United Nations, which is supposed to promote peace and justice for the whole of humanity is little more than a collection of unequal states each jealous of its sovereign prerogatives. In addition, the UN gives an unrestricted special blocking power (veto) to the five permanent members of the Security Council. The UN despite its many contributions has been unable to become effective in curtailing violations of international law by leading states and their friends and has not been able to meet such global challenges as ridding the world of nuclear weaponry or fashioning a constructive response to climate change.

 

            In relation to climate change there has been an overwhelming consensus among relevant experts for over two decades that global warming is causing severe harm to the ecology of the planet, and that this situation is likely to reach an irreversible tipping point if the average temperature on the earth rises above a 2°C level compared to what it was at the start of the industrial age. This knowledge had been irresponsibly contested by a well-funded campaign of climate skeptics that has been especially effective in the United States in hijacking the public debate, and undermining policy choices that are in accord with the scientific consensus. The skeptic undertaking is funded by fossil fuel interests, and is being managed by some of the same public relations firms that delayed public appreciation of the link between cancer and cigarette smoking by several decades. This campaign has destroyed the capacity of the United States to play a constructive leadership role needed to establish an obligatory framework for prudent restrictions on the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Without U.S. leadership there is lacking the political will on a global level to act with sufficient seriousness to protect the global interest, and human destiny becomes jeopardized in a highly destructive manner from the perspective of species survival.

 

             Just as national democracy needs drastic reform, so do the structures and procedures of world order. One direction of reform would be to establish institutions with resources and capabilities to serve distinctively global interests. Steps in such a direction would include a global revenue producing mechanism, a global peoples parliament, an independent UN peace and emergency relief force, a repeal of the veto right in the Security Council, a revision of the authority of the International Court of Justice by converting current ‘advisory opinions’ into binding enforceable decisions, convening a nuclear disarmament process, and upgrading the existing UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to the status of super-agency called UN Agency on Environmental Protection and Climate Change.

 

            Such a thought experiment as this is oblivious to horizons of feasibility that befuddle politicians and set artificial parameters limiting responsible debate.  My diagnosis is anchored in an interpretation of horizons of necessity. By recognizing this huge gap between feasibility and necessity it is implied that normal politics are futile, and in their place we are forced to embrace utopian politics, which can be described as horizons of desire, faith, and hope.

 

Akram Rikhawi and the Saga of Palestinian Hunger Strikes

9 Jul

 

       The persistence of Palestinian hunger strikes shocks me for two reasons: that these extreme expressions of moral freedom alert all who choose to expose their consciousness to such realities of the severely abusive arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures that many Palestinians living under Israeli occupation must endure; that the world’s media, foreign governments, the UN, the Arab League barely acknowledge such events, which if they occurred in other countries would generate outpourings of outrage and sympathy, and depending on the geopolitical calculus, hypocritical calls for the application of the ‘responsibility to protect’ norm.

       I post below a joint press release by respected NGOs of Palestine and Israel that summarize the desperate medical condition of Akram Rikhawi, who has continued his hunger strike for more than 85 days, an extraordinary display of discipline and resolve, the exemplary Palestinian virtue of samud (steadfastness). Mr. Rikhawi, whose home is in Gaza, has been held in prison since 2004 after being convicted to a nine-year term by an Israeli military court. He has been denied mercy by the Israeli authorities despite a present political atmosphere in which the Palestinian resistance has not been posing violent challenges to Israeli security behind the green line, and his condition would in any event make political activism an impossibility.

       As a result of the ‘Shalit Law,’ a vindictive violation of international humanitarian law that retaliates against Palestinian prisoners because of the capture of Gilad Shalit an Israeli soldier who was released a year ago, Rikhawi has been denied family visits since 2006 despite being the father of eight children plus the five young children of his recently deceased brother. Yasmine, daughter of his brother, summed up Akram Rikhawi’s tragic situation: “My uncle made a decision and we support him because we live life once; we either live it with dignity or we die fighting for it.” No human being should be forced to face such a dilemma, and those that do deserve our compassion and support. Jasmine describes Akram Rikhawi as the main source of financial and emotional support of the entire family, which was the center of his life. She describes him as an avid reader who was constantly challenging the family to engage in serious discussions, including issues arising from his intense opposition to the occupation.

 

       He suffers from multiple life-threatening ailments, including serious asthma and diabetes, and has been targeted for abuse since initiating this hunger strike as the following report makes clear.

       Putting all the pieces together, including the realization that many hunger strikes have been in process since Khader Adnan had recourse to a hunger strike on December 17, 2010 in protest against his arrest and confinement as a result of an administrative detention decree, we can reach some tentative conclusions:

–these brave acts of nonviolence have inspired Palestinians and some others, sustaining their dignity under the most difficult and inhumane of circumstances;

–Western countries and Western NGOs, claiming to be champions of humanitarian diplomacy, have spurned the moral and political challenges posed by these hunger strikes;

–despite such malign neglect, the hunger strikes have shined a bright light on the unlawfulness and cruelty of Israeli arrest and interrogation procedures and prison conditions that has increased awareness of this dimension of prolonged Israeli occupation of Palestine;

–with such an awareness comes responsibility, including acting on the request of Addammeer and Phsicians for Human Rights-Israel that letters demanding Akram Rikhawi’s release be sent to listed Israeli officials.

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

Concern mounts for the life of Akram Rikhawi on his 85th day of hunger strike

An independent doctor from PHR-IL visited Akram Rikhawi yesterday and an Addameer lawyer visited him today, along with Samer Al-Barq and Hassan Safadi. Samer and Hassan are still denied access to independent doctors.

Joint Press Release, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

Ramallah-Jaffa, 5 July 2012—Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) and Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association are gravely concerned for the life of Akram Rikhawi, who is now on his 85th day of hunger strike. An independent doctor from PHR-IL visited Akram in Ramleh prison medical center yesterday, 4 July, which was made possible only after an appeal to the Israeli District Court, where the judge eventually ordered the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to allow the entry of the independent doctor no later than 3 July.

Following the visit to Akram, the PHR-IL doctor reported the alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable. The doctor believes Akram has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage. The doctor reiterated recommendation for immediate examination by a lung specialist, which was not performed as recommended after the last visit by an independent doctor on 6 June.

Akram also reported that he is experiencing severe dizziness, can no longer walk and is having difficulty standing. Even more troubling, Akram has not been given any assistance in these matters, leaving him vulnerable to the danger of falling, which could result in fatal injury due to his osteoperosis. The doctor further noted that Akram is experiencing tingling and numbness in his left thigh, which could indicate peripheral nerve damage, and recommended immediate examination in a public hospital, for fear of permanent neurological damage.

The IPS has continued to punish Akram for his hunger strike by confiscating his books and reading materials, isolating him from other prisoners and cancelling his daily break. He is also being held in a cell with no fan or air conditioning, despite the high humidity and how badly it affects his asthma.

Akram pointed out to the independent doctor and to Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf in her visit today that he was recently hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, but was shackled at all times to the hospital bed and felt his needs were mostly ignored by the medical staff. He emphasized to Ms. Neddaf his desire to have unrestricted access to the independent doctors from PHR-IL.

Ms. Neddaf also visited Samer Al-Barq, who is on his 45th day of renewed hunger strike in protest against the extension of his administrative detention. Ms. Neddaf noted that he seems significantly weaker than during her last visit on 25 June. He is consuming only water with glucose.

Samer’s family has reported that he suffers from kidney problems and high blood pressure and has lost more than 25% of his original weight. On 21 June, PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for independent physicians. On 25 June the IPS denied this request without providing any reasons.

Hassan Safadi is on his 15th day of renewed hunger strike, after previously spending 71 days on prolonged hunger strike. His last administrative detention order was due to expire on 29 June and, according to the agreement ending Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike, he was supposed to be released on that date. However, his lawyer was informed on 21 June of the renewal of his administrative detention order for a further six months, in violation of the agreement.

According to Ms. Neddaf after her visit with him today, Hassan’s lawyer submitted a request to the military judge that he review the agreement and consider his immediate release. The judge responded that he would give a decision on this matter in two weeks. Hassan stressed that he will not break his hunger strike until he is released to his home in Nablus.

Hassan was transferred to Ramleh prison medical center last week and is currently being held in an isolated cell. He is drinking water with salt and taking vitamins due to a low potassium level in his blood. He has lost approximately 8 kilos in weight since the beginning of his renewed strike. PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for an independent doctor on 26 June and have not yet received a response from the IPS.

 

In light of the deterioration of the conditions of the remaining Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, PHR-IL and Addameer urge the international community to immediately intervene on their behalf and demand:

  • unrestricted access for independent physicians to all hunger strikers;
  • the immediate transfer of Akram Rikhawi and Samer Al-Barq to a public hospital, and the transfer of all prisoners on hunger strike for more than 40 days to public hospitals;
  • that no hunger striker be shackled while hospitalized;
  • that all hunger strikers—especially those in advanced stages of hunger strike—be allowed family visits, while they are still lucid;
  • that all information be given to families as to the medical condition of their loved ones, which is the responsibility of hospitals and medical staff in accordance with standards of medical ethics;
  • that Akram Rikhawi be granted release on humanitarian grounds;
  • that Hassan Safadi and Samer Al-Barq, along with all other administrative detainees, be immediately and unconditionally released.

*Write to the Israeli government, military and legal authorities and demand that Akram Rikhawi be released immediately and receive adequate medical care.

  • Brigadier General Danny Efroni
Military Judge Advocate General
6 David Elazar Street
Harkiya, Tel Aviv
Israel
Fax: +972 3 608 0366; +972 3 569 4526
Email: arbel@mail.idf.il; avimn@idf.gov.il
  • Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon
OC Central Command Nehemia Base, Central Command
Neveh Yaacov, Jerusalam
Fax: +972 2 530 5741
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Ministry of Defense
37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya
Tel Aviv 61909, Israel
Fax: +972 3 691 6940 / 696 2757
  • Col. Eli Bar On
Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria PO Box 5
Beth El 90631
Fax: +972 2 9977326

*Write to your own elected representatives urging them to pressure Israel to release Akram Rikhawi.

On Human Identity

26 Jun


 

            Early in my blog life I wrote about Jewish identity. It was partly an exercise in self-discovery, and partly a response to those who alleged that I was a self-hating Jew, or worse, an anti-Semite. These attacks on my characterwere hurtful even as I felt their distance from my actual beliefs and worldview. In my mind and heart criticisms of Israel and support for the Palestinian struggle for their rights under international law and in accord with fundamental ideas of justice had to do with taking suffering seriously,which for me is the most solid foundation of human identity.

            It is my conviction that in a globalized world human identity should serve as the moral trump card in relation to conflict situations. Of course, the optic of human identity can produce a variety of interpretations of a particular situation, and is not meant to eclipse other experienced identities. The Holocaust was a most horrifying instance of what the great Catholic monk, mystic, and writer, Thomas Merton, called the unspeakable. The memories of victimization can never function as a moral excuse for the victimization of another. Tragically, the unfolding of Israel’s quest for security and prosperity beneath the banner of Zionism has generated a narrative of severe Palestinian suffering taking multiple forms, ranging from the prolonged and acute vulnerability of statelessness and rightslessness to the humiliations of living decade after decade under harsh military rule in an increasingly apartheid setting.

 

            But our wider concern beyond the specifics of any given situation should also encompass the future of humanity. So long as ethnic, religious, and nationalist identities are given precedence in a world of inequality and critical scarcities of water, energy, food, and health, there will be oppression and widespread abuse. For the modern world the identity of the part, whether state, religion, or ethnicity, has consistently prevailed over the identity of the whole, whether that whole is understood to be humanity or world. As a result, globally reasonable policies to control global warming or world poverty or the instability of financial markets seem unattainable. Primacy accorded to the national interest continues to obstruct the fulfillment of the human interest.

 

            In earlier periods of history this kind of dispersal of authority was sustainable, although often cruel in maintaining hierarchies as during the colonial period and in relation to the annihilation of many indigenous peoples whose pre-modern wisdom has much to teach us about survival in the emergent post-modern world of scarcities and limits.

 

            At the same time, a plural world order allowed for diversities that were consistent with the variety of religions, civilizations, cultural traditions, and worldviews. Warfare and exploitation made such a world order morally deficient, but so were the envisioned alternatives associated with a global state or world government. A potential tyranny of the whole seemed to most of us worse than the anarchic failures arising in a world of sovereign states.

 

            Increasingly, conflict patterns based on the technologies of oppression and resistance are illustrating the menacing realities of a borderless world. Drones ignore borders. Cyber warfare is heedless of space. We cannot go on in  this manner much longer without bloodying our heads against the stone walls of history. We are living as a species on borrowed time. It is not the occasion for panic, but it is a time to recalibrate our relations with one another, with nature, with past and future, with this inevitable and mostly invisible transition of mentalities underway– from the enclosures and openings of a spatially oriented world of borders to the before and after of a temporally shaped world now and in the future beset by scarcities and limits.

 

            In such a global circumstance, human identity is not so much a choice as a destiny thrust upon us. It can produce a spectrum of responses. The tendency is to strengthen border controls, increase surveillance, indulge in blame games, and build high, electrified walls, making sovereign territory resemble at its best ‘a gated community’ of gargantuan proportions or at its worst ‘a maximum security prison.’ In this sense, the captivity of Gaza prefigures one kind of regressive future that resists the imperatives of a world of limits, seeking to lull us in the belief that we can remain safe in a world of borders.

 

            And so my orientation is in support of those who struggle against the odds, and for freedom, and it is in solidarity with those who believe that empathy and compassion bring greater security than guns and guard dogs. For me this means a celebration of human identity, and a citizenship that is derived primarily not from the blessings of a state or the sense of national belonging, but from the feeling that life is a journey toward a just and humane future, a pilgrimage endowed with spiritual significance throughout its unfolding. It is an engagement with impossible possibilities for the future, dreams and dramas of human fulfillment, and the person who fully endorses such a journey and the human identity that accompanies it is what I choose to call, and aspire to be:  ‘a citizen pilgrim.’

UN rights expert raises alarm over Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli Prisons

1 May

UN Press Release—HUMAN RIGHT COUNCIL–2 May 2012

UN rights expert raises alarm over Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli Prisons

GENEVA (30 April 2012) – UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk on Monday said he was appalled by the “continuing human rights violations in Israeli prisons,” amid a massive wave of hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners.

In extraordinary acts of collective nonviolent resistance to abusive conditions connected to Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners began an open-ended hunger strike on 17 April 2012, Palestinian Prisoners Day. This hunger strike is a protest against unjust arrest procedures, arbitrary detention and bad prison conditions. Prison authorities have reportedly taken punitive measures against those on hunger strike, including by denying them family and lawyer visits, confiscating their personal belongings and placing them in solitary confinement.

“I am appalled by the continuing human rights violations in Israeli prisons and I urge the Government of Israel to respect its international human rights obligations towards all Palestinian prisoners,” Falk said. “Israel must treat those prisoners on hunger strike in accordance with international standards, including by allowing the detainees visits from their family members.”

Falk noted that since the 1967 war, estimated 750,000 Palestinians including 23,000 women and 25,000 children have gone through detention in Israeli jails. This constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory or 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“Israel’s wide use of administrative detention flies in the face of international fair trial standards,” Falk said. “Detainees must be able to effectively challenge administrative detention orders, including by ensuring that lawyers have full access to the evidence on which the order was issued.” The Special Rapporteur noted that Israel currently holds around 300 Palestinians in administrative detention.

Falk called on the international community to ensure that Israel complies with international human rights laws and norms in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

ENDS

In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/ps/mandate/index.htm

 

OHCHR Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

 

Help End the Hunger Strike of Khader Adnan

15 Feb

I am publishing here my press release of today expressing urgent concern about the fate of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian activist, who is near death resulting from his continuing hunger strike that expresses his refusal to accept the humiliating conditions of imprisonment without charges and accompanied by an Israeli court approved denial of visitation rights to his wife. Please do whatever you can to exert pressure to obtain the immediate release of Mr. Adnan, and to make the world aware that Israel is responsible for respecting his rights and protecting his wellbeing.  The text below is released under the auspices of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and prepared in my role as Special Rapporteur for Occcupied Palestine of the Human Rights Council.

*****

> Israel: UN rights expert appeals for international help for a Palestinian
> prisoner on hunger strike
>
> CAIRO / GENEVA (15 February 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur
> on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied
> since 1967, Richard Falk, expressed his urgent and extreme concern
> regarding the situation of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, and urged
> the international community to intervene on his behalf.
>
> “I call on the international community, especially States with close
> relations with Israel, to urge the Israeli Government to fulfill its
> responsibilities under international law, most urgently with regard to Mr.
> Adnan,” the human rights expert said. Mr. Adnan, whose life is reportedly
> in jeopardy, has maintained a hunger strike for 60 days in response to the
> humiliating circumstances of his imprisonment without charges by the
> Government of Israel.
>
> “In view of the emergency of his situation, the Government of Israel must
> take immediate and effective action to safeguard Mr. Adnan’s life, while
> upholding his rights,” stressed the Special Rapporteur, who is currently
> undertaking a fact-finding mission to the region.
>
> Mr. Falk also called on the Government of Israel to respect its legal
> obligations pertaining to the several thousand Palestinians it has
> imprisoned. “The improper treatment of thousands of Palestinian prisoners
> by the Government of Israel should be of great concern to the
> international community, and it is a problem that I am paying close
> attention to in the context of my ongoing visit to the region.”
>
> The Special Rapporteur will convene a press conference at the end of his
> regional visit, on 20 February in Amman, and will submit a full report on
> his mission to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.
>
> ENDS
>
> In 2008, the UN Human Rights Council designated Richard Falk (United
> States of America) as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the situation of
> human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate
> was originally established in 1993 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
>
> Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur:
> http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/ps/mandate/index.htm
>
> OHCHR Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territories:
> http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx
>
> OHCHR Country Page – Israel:
> http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx
>
> For more information and media requests, please contact Kevin Turner (+41
> (0)79 509 0557 / kturner@ohchr.org) or write to sropt@ohchr.org.
>
> For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
> Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)
>
> UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:
> Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights
> Twitter: http://twitter.com/UNrightswire
> YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/UNOHCHR
>
> Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en
>

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