Tag Archives: United Nations

2014: International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

31 Dec

  

In a little noted initiative the General Assembly on November 26, 2013 voted to proclaim 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was requested to organize relevant activities in cooperation with governments, the UN system, intergovernmental organizations, and significantly, civil society. The vote was 110-7, with 56 abstentions, which is more or less reflective of the sentiments now present in international society.  Among the seven opponents of the initiative, in addition to Israel, were unsurprisingly its three staunchest supporters, each once a British colony: the United States, Canada, Australia, with the addition of such international heavyweight states as Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. Europe and assorted states around the world were among the 56 abstentions, with virtually the entire non-West solidly behind the idea of highlighting solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for peace with justice based on rights under international law.

 

Three initial observations: those governments that are willing to stand unabashedly with Israel in opposition to the tide of world public opinion are increasingly isolated, and these governments are under mounting public pressure from their own civil societies that seeks a balanced approach that is rights based rather than power dominated; the West, in general, is dominated by the abstaining governments that seek the lowest possible profile of being seen as neither for or against, and in those countries where civil society should now be capable of mobilizing more support for the Palestinian struggle; and the non-West that is, as has long been the case, rhetorically in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but have yet to match their words with deeds, and seem ready to be pushed.  

 

What is also revealing is the argumentation of UN Watch, and others, that denounce this latest UN initiative because it unfairly singles out Israel and ignores those countries that have worse human rights records.  Always forgotten here are two elements of the Israel/Palestine conflict that justify singling it out among others: Israel owes its existence, to a significant degree, to the organized international community, starting with the League of Nations, continuing throughout the British Mandate, and culminating with the Partition Plan of 1947, as set forth in GA Res. 181. The latter overrode the decolonizing principle of self-determination with a solution devised and imposed from without; such antecedents to the current Israel/Palestine situation also expose the colonialist foundations of the current struggle as well as call attention to the settler colonial elements that are associated with Israel’s continuous expansion of territorial, resource, and ethnocratic claims far beyond what the Western dominated international community had proposed, and then approved of,  after the end of World War II.

 

To be sure there were delicate and complex issues all along that make this problematic role of the international community somewhat more understandable. Up to 1945 there was a generalized acceptance of European colonial administration, although in the Middle East, colonial legitimacy was balanced for the first time against an obligation by the colonial powers to prepare a dependent people to stand eventually on its own, an ambivalent acknowledgement of the ethos of self-determination if not yet in the form of a legal norm. This affirmation of self-determination, as an alternative to colonial rule, was the special project of the American president, Woodrow Wilson, who insisted that such an approach was a moral imperative, especially in dealing with the regional aftermath of the Ottoman Empire that had long ruled over many diverse ethnicities.

 

Beyond this, the Jewish experience during the reign of fascist regimes throughout Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, created a strong empathetic urge in Europe to endorse the Zionist project for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.  As is known, this empathy although genuine in many quarters,  also exhibited a deferred sense of guilt on the part of the Western liberal democracies that had done so little to challenge the genocidal policies of Hitler and the Nazis, refusing to act at all until their national interests were directly engaged by German aggression. European support was also forthcoming because the Zionist proposed solution for the Jewish Problem, which has long been present in Europe, could be enacted elsewhere, that is, at the expense of non-Europeans. This elsewhere was far from empty and was coveted by others for various reasons. Palestine was a land long lived in mainly by Arabs, but also by some Jews and Christians, and associated centrally with the sacred traditions of all three monotheistic religions. Normally in the modern world, the demographics of residence trump biblical or other claims based on claims of national tradition, ethnic identity, and ancient historical presence. Yet despite these factors, there were ethical reasons in the aftermath of such extreme victimization of the Jewish people to lend support to a reasonable version of the Zionist project as it had evolved in the years since the Balfour Declaration, even if from a variety of other perspectives it was deeply unfair to others and disruptive of peaceful relations, and throughout its implementation, produced an unfolding catastrophe for most non-Jewish Palestinians.

 

Taking account of this historical and moral complexity what seems evident is the failure of the UN to carry out its responsibility in a manner that was effective and responsive to the human circumstances prevailing in Palestine. The UN overall record is quite disappointing if considered from the perspective of accommodating these contradictory clusters of consideration in a manner that was reflective of international law and global justice. The military prowess of Zionist forces in Israel inflicted a major defeat on the Palestinian people and neighboring Arab governments, and in the process expanded the territorial dominion of Israel from the 55% decreed by the UN in its partition plan to 78% where the green line established an armistice arrangement in 1948. Such an outcome was gradually endorsed by a geopolitical consensus, exhibited through the admission of Israel to the UN without any solution to the underlying conflict, leaving the Palestinians out in the cold and allowing Israel to constitute itself within borders much larger than what the UN had a mere year earlier decreed as fair.

 

This situation was further aggravated by the 1967 War in which Israel occupied all of the remaining territory of historic Palestine, purporting even to annex East Jerusalem while greatly enlarging the area of municipal Jerusalem by incorporating land belonging to the West Bank. Since 1967 this Palestinian territorial remnant has been further decreased by the massive settlement phenomenon, including its network of settler only roads, carried out in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, by the separation wall constructed and maintained in defiance of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, and by a variety of moves to change the demography of East Jerusalem. In other words, Israeli forces on the ground in what had been Palestine have undermined the vision set forth in the partition plan which was itself a controversial UN solution to the conflict that was rejected by Palestinians and by neighboring countries.

 

Despite much propaganda to the contrary, the Palestinian leadership has over most of the period of their struggle, shown an unusual readiness to abandon maximal goals, and put forward forthcoming proposals in recognition of the realities of a situation that had become unfavorable for the realization of their earlier hopes. Palestinian willingness, expressed formally since 1988, to accept Israel as a legitimate state within the green line borders of 1967 remains more than twenty-five years after its articulation an unacknowledged and unreciprocated major initiative for peace. That such a proposal has been ignored and continuously undermined by Israel with de facto Western acquiescence, and in the face of feeble UN rhetorical objections, displays the inability of the UN to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of Palestine.

 

As might be expected, Palestinians have long become disillusioned about the benefits of having UN authority and international law on their side. Over the years the backing of international authority has failed to bring about an improvement in the life circumstances and political position of the Palestinian people. The UN is helpless, and designed to be helpless, whenever a UN position is effectively resisted by a combination of military force and geopolitical alignment. Israel’s military capabilities and American geopolitical leverage have completely nullified the expressed will of the United Nations, but have not overcome the sense of frustration or excused the Organization from its failure to act responsibly toward the Palestinian people.

 

In light of this background, the wonder is that the UN has done so little to repair the damage, not that it has done so much, or more than it should in relation to Israel/Palestine. Arguably, yes, there are a variety of other situations in which the abuse of human rights has been worse than what is being attributed to Israel, but the rationale for focusing on Palestine is not only a question of the denial of rights, it is also an issue of fundamental justice, of the seemingly permanent subjugation of a people, partly due to arrangements that were devised and endorsed over a long period of time by the organized international community.  Yet, witnessing the dire current emergency plight of the people of Gaza, makes it perverse to contend that the human rights challenges facing this large and vulnerable Palestinian community is not among the worst human rights abuses in the entire world, and makes us wonder anew why the UN seems unwilling and unable to do more!

 

We can hope at the dawn of 2014 that the UN will be vigorous in giving the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People a political meaning that goes beyond words of empathy and support. There is an opportunity to do more. The UN resolution calls for working with civil society. Recent moves in America to join boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and in Europe to hold corporations responsible under international law for dealing commercially with Israeli settlements are major successes of civil society activism, being led by the BDS Campaign that has the important legitimating virtue of Palestinian leadership and backing. The UN can help build a momentum in the global solidarity movement that encourages nonviolent militant forms of coercive action that alone will give ‘solidarity’ a good name.

 

Palestinians are starting to win the Legitimacy War that is being waged against unlawful Israeli policies and on behalf of the attainment of Palestinian rights. The turning point in world public opinion can probably be traced back to the way Israel waged the Lebanon War of 2006, especially the avowed reliance on disproportionate force directed at residential neighborhoods, especially in south Beirut, a tactic that became known as the Dahiya Doctrine. The tipping point in shifting the Israeli collective identity from that of victims and heroic underdogs to that lawless perpetrators of oppressive warfare against a totally vulnerable people came in Operation Cast Lead, the sustained assault with high technology weaponry on the people of Gaza for three weeks at the end of 2008. After these developments, the Palestinians were understood more widely to be a victimized people, engaged in a just struggle to gain their rights under international law, and needing and deserving an international movement of support to offset the Israeli hard power and geopolitical dominance.

 

Israeli leaders and think tanks try their hardest to discredit this Palestinian Legitimacy War by falsely claiming that it is directed against the legitimacy of Israel as a state rather than is the case, against the unlawful policies of the Israeli state. This is a crucial difference, and the distinction seems deliberately obscured by Israeli propaganda that inflated what Palestinians are seeking so as to make their activism appear hyperbolic, with unreasonable and unacceptable demands, which makes it easier to dismiss than by addressing critically the Palestinian grievances in their actual form. It is to be hoped that the International Year of Solidarity in its work clarifies this distinction between Israel as a state and Israeli policies. Within such a framework the UN will deserve credit for contributing to victories throughout the world that advance the agenda of the Legitimacy War being waged by and on behalf of the Palestinian people, and by so doing, move the debate somewhat closer to the realization of a just and sustainable peace for both peoples.

  

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.

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Questioning Obamacare for Syria

5 Sep

When it comes to war, Obama is okay just this once, especially for Republicans

 

            There is something particularly distressing about the ongoing debate on authorizing an internationally illegal and immoral military attack on Syria: a show of political support on the right. Such a ‘coming together’ of some of the center and much of the right in the American Congress has been sadly absent during Obama presidency until now, whether the issue was health, taxes, social services, keeping the government running, and immigration. And this support emerges on the rare occasion when a majority of American citizens, not known for their cosmopolitan sentiments or affection for the UN Charter, oppose attacking Syria, as was the British Parliament, and as is public opinion throughout Europe. In such a setting, it is not only international law and the UN are being repudiated in a war/peace situation, but the whole fabric of democratic accountability to law and the judgment of the people.

 

            At least we can conclude that the reactionary tendency in American political life over the course of the last decade or so is consistent in its adherence to irresponsible means in the pursuit irresponsible ends. It appears that the real selling point for the looming attack on Syria is not for the sake of the Syrians, but to warn the leadership of Iran that it is next on the White House hit list unless it soon surrenders to Washington’s demands, echoing those more stridently made by Israel. Is this what global leadership of the United States has come to mean? To let adversaries be reminded that the global bully means business.

 

            And what about damaging the Obama legacy? There is a loss/loss feeling about the eventual attack, if indeed it should happen. If the attack on Syria is truly limited and does not produce many civilian casualties, his Republican champions, including such hawkish stalwarts as Senators McCain and Graham, will quickly change sides, arguing that doing such a slap on the wrist is worse than doing nothing. The broadening of the Congressional resolution suggests that the hawk support depends on launching a major attack that has much wider ambitions than what Obama seemed to favor in his call to Congress for authorization. Does he heed his earlier concept of the attack or go along with his more militarist supporters?

 

            If, as seems probable, there are casualties, retaliations, escalation, diplomatic fallout, persisting civil strife, cross border spillover effects, then Obama is almost sure to face a grassroots protest movement expressing national and global disaffection, and including some of those Democrats who go along because a ‘red line’ once drawn by an American president needs to get respect, even if the cost of doing so is irresponsible, irrational, imprudent, illegal, and immoral. Carrying out Obama’s preferred course of action would mean reverting to the once derided ‘Nixon madman’ approach to foreign policy, that is, inhibiting the Kremlin during the height of the Cold War by making their leaders believe that the American president was trigger-happy and crazy. Do whatever it takes to make sure else that America is feared around the world, endowing even its ill-advised threats with maximum potency. This iron fist style of ‘keeping of the peace’ is totally divorced from adherence to international law and support for the UN. It excessively values keeping ‘the military option’ on the table at all times in the hope of either annihilating its enemies or make them suffer the consequences of opposition to Washington ideas about how to run the world.

 

            If Congress responds with an authorization for force in Syria, and even in a form that exceeds what the president requested, it will no doubt recall the last major Congressional dark folly: the infamous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, giving LBJ a blank check to widen the Vietnam War in ways of his devising. His first step was to escalate the American engagement by attacking North Vietnam from air and sea in 1965. It is never pleasant to revive bad memories except possibly to avoid another foreign policy fiasco, as well as to deepen the impression that America as a imperial superpower has lost its capacity to learn from past mistakes.

 

            Dear friends, if the only way America can seem strong is to cast itself in the role of global bully, supplanting the earlier somewhat more understandable imperial cover of pax Americana, then the wise and virtuous will conclude, if they have not already, that America is actually weak. In this century true strength will not be measured by degrees of military dominance and battlefield victories, but by helping to solve the growing agenda of national, regional, and global problems endangering the future of humanity.

Such a constructive path can only be taken if the major states show respect for international law and the UN Charter as the foundational premises of a sustainable world order. Thinking otherwise, that the history will be interpreted from the militarist perspectives of those who base human and societal security on a global war machine places global civilizations, and even the human species, on a slippery slope of extinction, nothing less! At this time, we need to fear more a clash of rationalities than a clash of civilizations, although both should be transcended.

 

            Could it not be offered in response that such thoughts are a hysterical over-reaction to what will be at worst a flash flood soon to be forgotten? Along these lines, it is contended that any attack on Syria is likely to be over in several days (although the current language of the resolution offers a wide open window to war making by extending authorization to 90 days), the reaction by Syria and its friends, if any is forthcoming, will probably be muted, and life in America, the Middle East, and the world will return to what passes for ‘normalcy.’ Even if we assume that such a moderate unfolding is more or less accurate foretelling, yet even so, the effect would be deeply destructive. It will enable most of us to remain ignorant of an underlying frightening reality: our body politic suffers from this crippling disease of ‘martialitus’ for which there is no known cure, and at present not even a widely agreed upon diagnosis. Indeed, the disgraceful edifice of global surveillance may have as its primary task suppressing knowledge that our political leaders suffer from severe versions of this disease. Snowden, Manning, and Assange were likely seen to pose such a great danger because they were attempting to remove the geopolitical cataracts clouding our vision of such a distressing political reality. After such knowledge, there would be no forgiveness, only urgent responsibilities. Under these conditions cultivating the false consciousness of normalcy is itself an ominous sign of a collective refusal to acknowledge the disease, much less to begin treating it by such moves as a Congressional resolution requiring the president to obtain authorization for non-defensive force from the United Nations and under all circumstances act in accordance with the requirements of international law as objectively determined. It would be also important to insist that the government move toward fulfilling its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 by tabling a proposal for phased and verified nuclear disarmament. It may also be appropriate to introduce a resolution in Congress that would make mandatory a declaration of war in all instances where international force was to be used by the United States other than in circumstances of genuinely imminent foreign attack.

 

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Syria: Obama’s Surprising (and Confusing) Latest Moves

1 Sep

 

 

            President Obama’s August 31st remarks from the White House Rose Garden will long be remembered for their strangeness, but the final interpretation of their significance will have to await months if not years. There are three dimensions, at least, that are worth pondering: (1) seeking Congressional authorization for a punitive military attack against Syria in support of the treaty prohibition on recourse to chemical weapons in an armed conflict; (2) reconciling any endorsement of an attack by Congress with United States obligations under international law and with respect to the United Nations and its Charter; (3) assessing the degree to which American war making prerogatives continue to operate within an unacceptable domain of American exceptionalism.

 

            In framing the issues at stake Obama set forth the fundamental policy choices in a rather incoherent manner:

 

            –first of all, he asserted that on the basis of evidence available to the United States Government, that the Assad regime was without doubt responsible for the massive chemical weapons attack of August 21st directed at the Ghouta residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, and causing over 1,000 civilian deaths, including several hundred children. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, clearly articulated the grounds for skepticism about this American construction of the Ghouta atrocity. He put forward a strongly worded request that the allegations be confirmed by the release of convincing evidence. This is a reasonable demand. Many around the world have questioned why Assad would launch such a provocative attack to coincide with the arrival of UN inspectors, and when the battlefield balance was tipping in favor of the Damascus regime. All along such important figures in the Obama administration, especially John Kerry and Joe Biden, have arrogantly dismissed the relevance of any information provided by the UN inspection team. In light of the gigantic deception relating to Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal, which was more politely described long after the event as an ‘intelligence failure,’  it would have been appropriate for Washington to admit that it has a credibility problem in winning governmental and popular support for an attack on Syria. Its refusal to acknowledge such an issue merely deepens suspicions.

 

            –secondly, Obama informed listeners that “..after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” He added that he made this decision “as Commander-in-Chief on what I am convinced are our national security interests.” This conclusion was explained to rest on the importance of punishing such a crime against humanity and deterring future recourse to chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by Syria, as well as sending a message to Iran and North Korea about America’s readiness to use force to uphold such norms of international law.

 

            –thirdly, there was no effort in Obama’s remarks to show why, absent a UN mandate, the United States in coalition with a few other countries, had the legal authority to attack a sovereign state in a circumstance other than self-defense.

 

            –fourthly, although the decision against involvement by the British Parliament was noted, there was no consideration as to whether such an outcome should bear on American policy. Nor was the German or Italian

unwillingness to join in the attack noted, nor that of the Arab League. But the French support was duly appreciated, including a dig at the United Kingdom, by reminding his listeners around the world that it was France that was America’s “oldest ally.” (It is worth noting that the roles of these two European friends were directly reversed in the context of the Iraq War; then, it was the French more conservative led government that opposed participation, while now a socialist leader in Paris supports an attack against Syria).

 

            –fifthly, and in the most dramatic passage in the speech, Obama announces that because the United States is a proud democracy he has made “a second decision: I will seek the authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress” by calling for a debate and vote. No mention is made of a time frame, nor how he would react in the event

that authorization was not forthcoming. Such an eventuality would set up a potential tension between his duties to uphold national security and an obligation of deference to a decision by Congress on the vital matter of authority to wage war. Obama touched all the bases by saying, “Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.” In effect, there is no constitutional legal requirement to obtain Congressional authorization, but doing so will create a more effective response. But what if authorization is withheld? Or Congress is split with approval by the Senate, and disapproval by the House?

 

            –sixthly, there is an implicit endorsement of American exceptionalism. After saying that the case for an attack will be made internationally, as well as domestically, Obama reaffirms a national prerogative of illegal unilateralism. He uses this phrase: “But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.” That is no matter that others disagree, the United States alone has the duty to act as it sees fit. It is correctly presumed that such discretion is not vested in other sovereign states. Otherwise the world would be in flames. In effect, Syria, Iran, North Korea are bound by international law, as interpreted by the United States, while the United States and its closest allies are guided by assessments of their national security interests.

It is this double standard that is at the core of American exceptionalism, and also underpins the debate as to whether it is more instructive to view the United States as ‘global leader’ or ‘imperial power,’ or possibly some blend;

 

–there is something rather sinister about announcing an intention to strike a vulnerable country with which the United States is not at war, coupled with the announcement that the needed military capabilities are in place, but will not be used until convenient;  in effect, a lethal strike against Syria can take place at any point from now on until a time weeks or months from now, depending only on the workings of the internal American political process and the disposition of its Commander-in-Chief. If this is deemed to be in the interest of the Syrian people, I would like to know how.

 

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Even if the controversy as to the facts is ignored, and the problems associated with double standards as to the relevance of international law to the use of force, there are some other reasons for concern about the approach adopted by President Obama:

 

–it denies constitutional status to the request for Congressional authorization, making it a discretionary presidential judgment call that is not necessitated by the Constitution, but is an expression of Obama’s belief in democratic procedures. To not rest this request on the Constitution itself is a missed opportunity, and thus amounts to yet another reassertion of excessive authority by the Executive Branch of government;

 

–it makes no effort to assess what would be of benefit to the people of Syria, and rather makes the case for a narrow strike as a combination of punishing (without intending to displace) the Assad regime and abstract American national security interests in its self-appointed role as preventing the use and spread of WMD;

 

–it fails to advocate in a serious manner a diplomatic approach to ending the violence of the conflict by calling for a second Geneva conference with the full participation of Iran that would deal with regional peace and security issues, as well as the war in Syria;

 

–it undermines the authority of the UN and international law by vesting in the U.S. Government the final word on when it is appropriate to use international force in non-defensive modes and fails to make war a matter of ‘last resort’;

 

–it draws an overly sharp a distinction between this incident involving chemical weapons and other massacres that have occurred during the course of two years of strife in Syria; regardless of the weaponry deployed both forms of violence are crimes against humanity that deserve a serious and effective response, if available.

 

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It is as yet possible that Congress will rescue Obama from having to respect a red line he ill-advisedly proclaimed a year ago. It would be ironic if this one time the anti-Obama Republicans saved him from the worse foreign policy excess of his presidency!

 

It is possible that Obama will be pushed by pro-interventionists to override a Congressional failure to give  authorization. It is also possible that Congress will authorize, and public opinion strongly oppose. And we are left to wonder whether Congress can constitutionally authorize a use of force that violates international treaty law. Of course, we would be unlikely to find out given the passivity of the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to challenges directed at legally dubious foreign policy and national security matters.

 

All of the above suggests that the revitalization of American republicanism requires, as a matter of urgency, a constitutional convention with an explicit mandate to restore the separation of powers and checks and balances in relations to war/peace issues. The U.S. Government has longed strayed from this vital pillar of republican democracy.

 

Nothing would do more to restore confidence in the United States as a global leader! Such a momentous event will not happen without massive grassroots pressure; it will never be decreed from on high.

 

A final word of blurred appreciation: CNN talking heads are very fond of referring to Obama as epitomizing ‘the reluctant warrior.’ And reluctant he is, but also warrior he has been, and continues to be, casting a rather dark shadow over the Nobel Peace Prize decision process. The reluctance is articulated over and over again in his words and sometimes reflected in his policies, and certainly seems sincere. And such reluctance may be credited, at least subconsciously, with this welcome move to broaden the domestic authorization process with respect to this non-defensive use of international force. Obama would deserve less ambiguous praise if he had recognized the role of Congress prior to the decision of the British Parliament. And prior the many demands from Congress for a greater role gathering political momentum.

 ##

Syria: U.S. War Making at the Expense of Democracy

31 Aug

 

             The U.S. Government rains drone missiles on civilian human targets anywhere in the world, continues to operate Guantanamo in the face of universal condemnation, whitewashed Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and the torture memos, committed aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan, and invests billions to sustain its unlawful global surveillance capabilities. Still, it has the audacity to lecture the world about ‘norm enforcement’  in the wake of the chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Someone should remind President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that credibility with respect to international law begins at home and ends at the United Nations. Sadly, the American government loses out at both ends of this normative spectrum, and the days of Washington being able to deliver pious messages on the importance of international law are over. No one is listening, and that’s a relief, although it does provide material for those teams of writers working up material for the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the many standups at Comedy Central. Yet, of course, this geopolitical TV series is no laughing matter for the long ordeal of the Syrian people.

 

            There is yet another disturbing dimension of this pre-war pseudo debate about recourse to force in retaliation for an alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad against his own people: should a democracy empower its elected leaders to commit the country to war without at least securing specific legislative authorization? The contrast between the approach of the British and American approach to this issue is illuminating. David Cameron, as Prime Minister, along with his Foreign Secretary, strongly favored joining with the United States in launching a punitive attack against Syria, but arranged a prior Parliamentary debate and vote, and clearly indicated his immediate acceptance of the surprising refusal to win backing for such a policy, a show of Parliamentary independence that had not occurred in the country since the late 18th century. Of course, given polls showing only 11% of British citizens supporting an attack on Syria, Cameron may be privately breathing a deep sigh of relief that the vote came out as it did! Obama should be so lucky! If only his powers as Commander-in-Chief included a tool with which to erase imprudent ‘red lines’!

 

            Compare now the Obama approach: speeches informing the country about why it is important to punish the Assad regime so as to uphold American national security interests and to engender respect for international law and several consultations with Congressional leaders. What is absent from the Obama discourse is the word ‘authorization’ or ‘a decent respect for the opinions’ of humanity, as expressed at home and in the world. In my view, this continuing claim of presidential authority to wage war unilaterally, and absent a UN mandate, is creating a deep crisis of legitimacy not only for the U.S., but for all governments that purport to be democracies but commit to war on the decision of the chief executive, as France and Turkey appear to be doing. It is time to face up to this crisis.

 

            Above all, the foundational idea of American republicanism was to demonstrate that the power to declare and wage war was subject to ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers,’ and in this crucial respect, was unlike the monarchical powers of English kings in war/peace contexts. This makes the Parliamentary rebuff to Cameron not only a revitalizing move for British democracy, but an ironic commentary on the degree to which American ‘democracy’ has perversely moved in an absolutist direction.

 

            It is true that government lawyers as hired hands can always find legal justifications for desired lines of policy. We can count on White House lawyers do just this at the present time: working into the night at Office of the Legal Counsel to prepare breifing material on the broad scope of the powers of the president as Commander-in-Chief, reinforced by patterns of practice over the course of the last several decades, and rounded out with an interpretation of the War Powers Act that supposedly gives the president 60 days of discretionary war making before any obligation exists to seek approval from Congress. Lawyers might quibble, but democracy will be the loser if procedures for accountability and authorization are not restored with full solemnity. In this respect the law should follow, not lead, and what is at stake is whether the republican ideals of limited government would be better served by the original ideas of making it unconstitutional for a president to commit the country to war without a formal and transparent process of public deliberation in the Congress, which is that part of government charged with reflecting the interests and values of the citizenry. Let the lawyers be damned if they side with the warrior politicians, however ‘war weary’ they claim to be.

 

            It is worth also noticing that the common arguments for presidential authority do not pertain. The United States is not responding to an attack or acting in the face of an imminent threat. There is no time urgency. Beyond this the American public, as is the case with the publics of all other Western democracies, oppose by large majorities acts of war against Syria. What makes this situation worse, still, is the refusal to test diplomacy. By international law norms, reinforced by the UN Charter, a use of force to resolve an international conflict is legally a matter of ‘last resort’ after diplomatic remedies have been exhausted. But here they are not even being tried in good faith, which would involve bringing Iran into the process as a major engaged player, and enlisting Russia’s support rather than exhibiting post-Snowden pique. Obama claims that no one is more war weary than he is, but his behavior toward Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Russia convey the opposite message.

 

            And finally, some urge what be called ‘a humanitarian right of exception,’ namely, that this crime against humanity committed against the Syrian people requires a proportionate response from the perspective of international morality, regardless of the constraints associated with international law. Disregarding ‘the slippery slope’ of moral assessments, this particular response is being presented as directed against the Assad regime, but not motivated by any commitment to end the civil war or to assassinate Assad. There are reasons for viewing Washington’s moralizing reaction to the horrifying chemical attacks of August 21, especially the rush to judgment with respect to attributing responsibility to the Assad regime without awaiting the results of the UN inspection team and the odd timing of a such a major attack just as the inspectors were arriving in Damascus. It is not only habitual skeptics that recall Colin Powell’s presentation of conclusive evidence of Iraq’s possession of WMD to the UN Security Council in the lead up to the unlawful Iraq War. We should by now understand that when a foreign policy imperative exists for the occupant of the White House, factoids replace facts, and moral/legal assessments become matters of bureaucratic and media duty.

             

 

Gaza: 7th Year of Unlawful Blockade (UN HRC SR Press Release)

15 Jun

Gaza Blockade

Prefatory Note: I am posting a press release of yesterday, 14 June 2013, to take note of the start of the seventh year of the Israeli blockade. After the Mavi Marmara incident, 31 May 2010 and the more recent November ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza government there was an undertaking to ease the blockade with respect to the flow back and forth of people and goods, but the situation remains desperate for the civilian population of Gaza that remains essentially locked into the Gaza Strip where economic destitution has reached epidemic extremes and where the water is mostly unfit for human consumption. The international community, and its main leaders, have commented adversely on the blockade, but nothing happens! It is this sense of powerlessness that is undermining the legitimacy and relevance of the United Nations to the suffering of the Palestinian people, and with particular relevance to the extreme ordeal of the civilian population of Gaza.

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

Freedom Flotilla 

 

 

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

Press Release on start of 7th year of Gaza Blockade

Collective punishment in Gaza must end: Israel’s blockade enters its 7th year – UN Special Rapporteur        

GENEVA, 14 June 2013 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, Richard Falk, called today on Israel to end its blockade over the Gaza Strip, six years after it was tightened following the Hamas takeover in June 2007. The human suffering of the land, sea and air blockade imposed on the 1.75 million Palestinians living in one of the most densely populated and impoverished areas of the world has been devastating.

“Six years of Israel’s calculated strangulation of the Gaza Strip has stunted the economy and has kept most Gazans in a state of perpetual poverty and aid dependency,” said the UN expert. “Whether it is fishermen unable to go beyond six nautical miles from the shore, farmers unable to access their land near the Israeli fence, businessmen suffering from severe restrictions on the export of goods, students denied access to education in the West Bank, or patients in need of urgent medical attention refused access to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank, the destructive designs of blockade have been felt by every single household in Gaza. It is especially felt by Palestinian families separated by the blockade,” he added.

Gaza children at fence

“The people of Gaza have endured the unendurable and suffered what is insufferable for six years. Israel’s collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza must end today,” said the Special Rapporteur.

“Israel has the responsibility as the Occupying Power to protect the civilian population. But instead of allowing a healthy people and economy to flourish, Israeli authorities have sealed off the Gaza Strip. According to statistics released by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, last month’s exports out of Gaza consisted of 49 truckloads of empty boxes, three truckloads of spices, one truckload of cut flowers, and one truckload of furniture,” he said. In 2012, the total number of truckloads of exports leaving Gaza was 254, compared to 9,787 in 2005 before the tightening of the blockade.

“It does not take an economist to figure out that such a trickle of goods out of Gaza is not the basis of a viable economy,” noted the UN expert. “The easing of the blockade announced by Israel in June 2010 after its deadly assault on the flotilla of ships carrying aid to the besieged population resulted only in an increase in consumer goods entering Gaza, and has not improved living conditions for most Gazans.  Since 2007, the productive capacity of Gaza has dwindled with 80 percent of factories in Gaza now closed or operating at half capacity or less due to the loss of export markets and prohibitively high operating costs as a result of the blockade. 34 percent of Gaza’s workforce is unemployed including up to half the youth population, 44 percent of Gazans are food insecure, 80 percent of Gazans are aid recipients,” he said.

“To make matters worse, 90 percent of the water from the Gaza aquifer is unsafe for human consumption without treatment, and severe fuel and electricity shortage results in outages of up to 12 hours a day. Only a small proportion of Gazans who can afford to obtain supplies through the tunnel economy are buffered from the full blow of the blockade, but tunnels alone cannot meet the daily needs of the population in Gaza.”

“Last year, the United Nations forecast that under existing conditions, Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. Less optimistic forecasts presented to me were that the Gaza Strip may no longer be viable only three years from now,” said the Special Rapporteur. “It’s clear that the Israeli authorities set out six years ago to devitalize  the Gazan population and economy,” he said, referring to a study undertaken by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in early 2008 detailing the minimum number of calories Palestinians in Gaza need to consume on a daily basis to avoid malnutrition.  The myriad of restrictions imposed by Israel do not permit civilians in Gaza to develop to their full potential, and enjoy and exercise fully their human rights.

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

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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.

Responding to The Syrian Challenge

27 May

 

 

            The issue facing the U.S. Government at this stage is not one of whether or not to intervene, but to what extent, with what objectives, and with what likely effects. More precisely, it is a matter of deciding whether to increase the level and overtness of the intervention, as well as taking account of what others are doing and not doing on the Assad regime side of the conflict. Roughly speaking, there have been interventions by the Turkey, the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the EU on the insurgent side, and by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah on the regime side, with a variety of non-Syrian ‘volunteers’ from all over being part of the lethal mix.

 

            From an international law perspective the issues are blurred and controversial, both factually and jurisprudentially. The Assad government remains the government of Syria from most international perspectives, despite having repeatedly perpetrated the most despicable crimes against humanity. Such behavior has eroded Syria’s status as a sovereign state whose territorial integrity, political independence, and governmental authority should be respected by outside actors including the UN. Under most circumstances the UN Charter obligates the Organization to refrain from intervening in matters internal to states, including civil wars, unless there is a clear impact on international peace and security.  Such an impact certainly seems to exist here, given the large-scale regional proxy involvement in the conflict. Given the pull and push of the current situation in Syria, the UN Security Council could, if a political consensus existed among its permanent member, authorize a limited or even a regime changing intervention under a UN banner. For better or worse such a consensus does not exist, and never has, since the outbreak of violence usually dated as commencing on March 15, 2011 with the violent suppression of previously peaceful anti-government demonstrations in the cities of Aleppo, Damascus, and especially Daraa, often known as ‘the cradle of the revolution.’ The situation is further clouded by bad geopolitical memories, especially the Security Council authorization to use force in Libya to protect the civilian population of Benghazi in March 2011. On that occasion, Russia and China, as well as Germany, Brazil, and India, put aside their anti-interventionist convictions, and allowed an intervention under NATO auspices to go forward by abstaining rather than voting against the authorization of force.  But what happened in Libya thereafter was deeply disturbing to the abstainers—instead of a limited authorization to establish a no-fly zone around Benghazi, a full-fledged air campaign with regime-changing objective in mind went forward without any effort by the intervenors to expand their mission or even to explain why the limits accepted in the Security Council debate and resolution were so blatantly put to one side. After such a deception trust was broken, and the difficulties of obtaining UN approval to act under the norm of ‘responsibility to protect’ were greatly magnified.

 

            Should it not be argued that the people of Syria should not be sacrificed because of this betrayal of trust in relation to Libya, and besides, Western leaders contend is not Libya and the world better off with Qaddafi gone. If this outlook is persuasive, and China and Russia continue to thwart a rescue of the Syrian people by threatening to veto any call for action, would it not be justifiable for a group of states to act without UN authorization, claiming Kosovo-like legitimacy. Yet there are major costs involved when the restraining ropes of law are loosening for the sake of moral and political expediency.  To cast aside the Charter regime is a move toward restoring the discretion of states when it comes to waging war, which was the main rationale for establishing the UN in the first place.

 

            This prohibition on non-defensive force holds legally even if a strong humanitarian justification for intervention can be made. The Kosovo precedent suggests that in the face of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe, an intervention will be widely endorsed as legitimate by the organized international community even if it is clearly unlawful. If such an undertaking is reasonably successful in ending the violence and saving lives, there is likely to be an ex post facto endorsement of what was done, especially if seems to most respected observer that humanitarian objectives were not invoked by the interveners to obscure the pursuit of strategic goals. This is what happened after the NATO War to remove the Serbian presence from Kosovo. The UN watched from the sidelines without condemning the unlawful use of force, and has played a central role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Kosovo. More surprisingly, the UN, to its regret, even attempted to play such a role after the flagrantly unlawful and illegitimate attack upon and occupation of Iraq, despite having earlier rebuffed the concerted American effort to win the approval of the Security Council prior to the war. It should not have come as a great surprise that the Iraqi resistance forces targeted the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, apparently regarding the UN as having becoming an arm of the occupying and invading foreign forces. Unlike Kosovo where the Serbs were driven out, in Iraq despite a massive displacement of civilians, resistance forces stayed in the country to fight against the occupiers and on behalf of their vision of a post-occupation Iraq.

 

            There are important world order issues present aside from the questions of legality and legitimacy. There are also pragmatic and prudential dimensions of any decision about what to do in response to Syria’s descent into chaos and horrific violence, with no early end in sight. Although the sovereign state is not an absolute ground of political community, it is the basic unit comprising world order, and the logic of self-determination should be allowed to prevail in most situations even when the results are disappointing. The practical alternative to the logic of self-determination is the hegemonic logic of hard power, and its record is not a happy one if viewed from the standpoint of people and justice. Sovereign equality has been the weave of the juridical order ever since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, although the existential inequality of states has offered a counterpoint that as given rise to a variety of geopolitical regimes, e.g. the European colonial period, the bipolarity of the Cold War, the unipolarity of the 1990s, and perhaps, the emerging multipolarity of the early 21st century.

 

            When crimes against humanity cross a certain threshold of severity,  which is itself necessarily a subjective judgment, or where genocide is credibly threatened or actually taking place or credibly threatened, the normally desirable and applicable norm of non-intervention and its internal complement of self-determination, gives way to claims of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ a practice somewhat sanitized recently by being accorded normative authority in the form of a ‘responsibility to protect.’ National primacy gives ground to the primacy of the human in such exceptional circumstances, and the human interest can justify a full-scale intervention provided prudential and pragmatic factors seem likely to allow intervention to succeed at acceptable costs, and to be procedurally endorsed in some secondary way.  Of course, there is also the question of disentangling strategic motives for intervention from the humanitarian justification. There is no easy formula for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable blends of the strategic and the moral, but as Noam Chomsky warned during the Kosove intervention, ‘military humanism’ is not believable because double standards are so rampant. Why are the Kosovars protected but not the besieged population of Gaza? Why the Libyans but not the Syrians? The presence of double standards is not the end of the story. Without some strategic incentive it is unlikely that the political will is strong enough to succeed with a military undertaking that is purely a rescue operation. Recall how quickly the United States backed away from its involvement in Somalia after Black Hawk Down incident in 1993. In that sense, the presence of oil, maritime shipping lanes, pipeline routes is a strategic interest that will offset the costs of war for a considerable number of years as the Iraq invasion of more than ten years ago illustrated, but even in Iraq an eventual acknowledgement of the inability to achieve the strategic objectives led to a conclusion to give in and get out, time ran out. A democratic public does not accept the human and economic costs of a non-defensive war indefinitely, no matter how much the media plays along with the official line. That is the lesson that is imperfectly learned by politicians in a long list of encounters, most prominently, Vietnam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.

 

            Arguably, in 1999 what happened in Kosovo was a positive scenario for interventionary diplomacy. NATO intervened without a green light from the UN, and yet managed, although without achieving complete success, to provide the great majority of the Kosovar population not only with security but with support for their claim of self-determination. Before the intervention, most of the Kosovo population was living under oppressive conditions, and faced a severe threat of worse to come. As many as a million people, almost half of the population, sought temporary refuge in nearby Macedonia, but ratified the intervention by returning to their homeland as soon as NATO had forced their Serbian oppressors to leave. There are complexities beyond the debate about the use of force. Who would settle the question of competing sovereign claims mounted by Belgrade and Pristina? It appears that the resolution of this dispute will be resolved for the foreseeable future by the de facto realities, which is to say in favor of Kosovar claims of political independence and in opposition to Serbian claims of historic sovereign title.

 

            Such a positive outcome didn’t occur in Iraq, which was attacked in 2003 without UN authorization, and in the absence of a humanitarian emergency, and the effects of the undertaking were horrendous in terms of level of devastation and loss of life, agitating sectarian conflict, with no stability or decent government put in place or in sight. A ruthless dictator who brought stability to Iraq was replaced by an authoritarian regime beset by enemies from within, including even the loss of control of the northern regions run by the Kurdish majority as a virtually of a state within the state. Such an intervention was neither legitimate nor lawful. The Libyan intervention of 2011 seems an intermediate case, if evaluated either from the perspective of just cause or overall consequences. The dust has certainly not settled in Libya, and at this point it is difficult to tell whether the future will resemble more the strife of Iraq or the relative calm of, say, Bosnia.

 

            How does Syria fit into this picture based on recent experience with large-scale interventions? The situation in Syria qualifies for intervention on behalf of a beleaguered population that have endured great suffering already, and in this respect, even absent UN authorization, the legitimacy rationale of Kosovo would seem sufficient. According to a variety of reports there have been at least 80,000 killed in the Syrian conflict, with an incredible 4 million Syrians internally displaced, with an additional 1.5 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, especially, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.  This massive spillover is giving rise to severe destabilizing tensions in these countries, and creating a rising risk that the internationalized civil war in Syria will further engage other countries directly in combat operations. Israel has already three times struck at targets in Syria that were allegedly connected with weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and there are reports that Beirut has been hit by a rocket sent from Syrian rebel forces. Also relevant is the line in the sand drawn by Obama in relation to the use of chemical weapons by Damascus, or the depots used to store these weapons falling into hostile hands, and the Assad threats of retaliation, and some signs of violence on the border separating Syria from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. And finally, the allegations by Israel and some right wing member of the U.S. Congress urging more aggressive moves in relation to Iran, with Netanyahu contending that Iran is seeking to become a ‘nuclear superpower’ with a program larger than that of either North Korea and Pakistan, both already members of the nuclear weapons club.

 

            The dangers of widening the war zone in a disastrous manner and of acting in behalf of the questionable agendas of states other than Syria greatly complicates the response to the Syrian internal crisis. It also gives a heavy weight to the question: how to take account of prudential considerations that relate to probable costs and effects of various alternative courses of action? Here there is much less prospect that sufficient force could and would be used to tip the conflict in favor of the disunited rebel groups in the direction of an acceptable outcome, or even that a sustainable ceasefire could be achieved. The more likely result of any further escalation of external intervention is to magnify the conflict still further, and this would likely include encouraging counter-moves by the powerful foreign friends of the Assad government. It needs to be realized that outsiders are engaged heavily on both sides, and each can credibly blame the other, although it does seem to be widely agreed that by far the greatest share of responsibility for the commission of atrocities belongs to the governing authorities operating out of Damascus. There is something strange about the alignments, with the conservative Arab governments in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States and Western Europe, backing the revolutionary insurgency, despite it being increasingly dominated by radical Islamic participation, especially Jilhat al-Nusra. On the other side, Iran’s religiously oriented government finds itself aligned to the secular Ba’athist leadership in Damascus. 

 

            Against this background only a diplomacy of compromise seems both justifiable as the best among an array of bad option and prudent in having the best hope of ending the violence and putting Syria on a trail that could lead to political normalcy. But a diplomacy of compromise accepts the stalemate on the battlefield as its necessary starting point, and does not set preconditions, such as the removal of Bashar al-Assad from his position as head of state and the demand for a post-Assad transitional government in Damascus. Nor in like measure can a diplomacy of compromise expect the opposition to trust the government or to lay down their arms if the Assad regime is left in control of the governance structures in the country. Such a process can only hope to be effective if the two sides, at least subjectively, realize that they are trapped in an endless and irreversible downward spiral, and act accordingly, although not needing to admit such an unsatisfactory outcome in their public utterances. There are pitfalls. A ceasefire, even if bolstered by a major peacekeeping presence and some devolution of political authority that takes account of which side controls which city and region.

 

            The Syrian situation is further bedeviled by the absence of a unified insurgent leadership, making it unclear who can speak authoritatively on behalf of insurgent forces. Just a week ago some of the opposition forces met in Istanbul under the auspices of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, issuing a 16 point proposal that called for the departure of Assad from the country, the establishment of a coalition government to manage the transition, with the inclusion of some members of the Assad leadership, and impunity for all allegations of criminality associated with the strife. Such a proposal seemed to arouse controversy even at the coalition meeting, and seems without great support in Syria if the views of the various opposition groupings are all taken into consideration. In the meantime, the United States is acting strenuously to convene a second conference in Geneva during the month of June to exert pressure on the Assad government to negotiate an end to the war on the basis of the removal of Assad as president and the establishment of a pluralist transitional government tasked with organizing elections. The American Secretary of State, John Kerry, is energetically pushing this plan, which is linked to a threat—either negotiate along the lines we propose, or the arms embargo will be lifted, and the rebel militias will receive arms. Although the language being used by the United States and others in UN Action Group for Syria and the Friends of Syria is respectful of the role of the Syrian people in shaping the future of the country, there is a coercive aura surrounding this surge of diplomatic initiative that is dysfunctional to the extent that it seems based on the insurgency having the upper hand rather than there being a stalemate. Under the conditions prevailing in Syria, by far the role for external actors is to assume a facilitative mode that is fully supportive of a framework for negotiations based on a diplomacy of compromise. The litmus test for a diplomacy of compromise is the mutual realization that a battlefield stalemate cannot be broken by acceptable means. When and if this realization takes hold negotiations can proceed in a serious manner and a ceasefire is more likely to hold. What this would mean concretely is difficult to discern, and would undoubtedly be difficult for the parties to agree upon. An urgent preliminary step would be to invite trusted international envoys from non-geopolitically activist governments to talk with the entire spectrum of political actors to ascertain whether such a diplomacy of compromise has any traction at the present time, and if not, why not.

 

            Suppose such an initiative fails, and cannot it be said that this approach has already been tried under UN and Arab League auspices, designating such respected global figures as Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi to undertake a similar mission? Perhaps, such initiatives preceded the recognition by the Syrian antagonists that the military path is blocked and bloody, and that now the timing is better, although maybe not good enough. It could be that such an appreciation led Moscow and Washington to agree on convening a conference of interested governments in Geneva next month that is expected to include the government of Syria.  Such an international effort suggests that outsiders might be able to find enough common interests to put their geopolitical weight behind a diplomacy of compromise, but they should not attempt to do anything more by way of imposing conditions. An effective and legitimate diplomacy of compromise must be seen as coming from within, and not a maneuver that is executed from without. Of course, such restraint is not inconsistent with upgrading efforts to soften the hardships of Syrian refugees and those internally displaced, nor upgrading efforts to meet uregent relief needs in Syria, which probably calls for allowing reliable NGOs to take over the bulk of the humanitarian challenge, but again in a manner faithful to the ethos of compromise, which includes suspending disbelief as to who is right and who wrong.

 

            But what of the Jalhat al-Nusra extremists in the insurgent ranks, credited with doing the most arduous recent fighting on the insurgent side? And what about the war criminals running the government in Damascus? Or their Hezbollah allies also given major combat roles in the last several weeks? Can these realities be wished away, and if not how to respond? Radical uncertainty prompts caution with respect to every alternative course of action, including throwing up one’s hands in despair. Obviously a diplomacy of compromise is not a panacea, and likely is a non-starter, but in such a desperate situation it seems worth trying, provided it does not become a different kind of battlefield in which the goals sought by violence are being pursued by statecraft, doing nothing more than instituting an intermission between periods of unrestrained violence for the weary combatants. My essential argument is that until the parties engaged in hostilities on both sides recognize their inability to achieve a political victory by way of the battlefield, and external actors acquiesce in this recognition, there can only take place an unproductive and wrongheaded coercive diplomacy of partisanship, supporting the claims of the anti-Assad side. It should have become clear after more than two years of bloodshed and atrocities that no amount of geopolitical arm-twisting will lead Damascus and their own constituencies to place the destiny of Syria on this kind of diplomatic chopping block. 

Divestment at UCSB

16 Apr

Moving Toward Divestment from Corporations Profiting from Israeli Militarism, Occupation, and Settlments

 

A few days ago I spoke to a student audience in support of a divestment resolution that was to be submitted for adoption at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The resolution was narrowly defeated the next day in the UCSB Student Senate, but this series of student initiated efforts to urge several campuses of the University of California to divest from corporations doing a profitable business selling military equipment to Israel represents an encouraging awakening on the part of American youth to the severe victimization of the Palestinian people by way of occupation, discrimination, refugee misery, and exile, a worsening set of circumstances that has lasted in its various forms for several decades, and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

 

Ever since the nakba of 1948, either traditional diplomacy, nor the United Nations, nor armed struggle have been able to secure Palestinian rights, and as time has passed, Palestinian prospects are being steadily diminished by deliberate Israeli policies: establishment and expansion of unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, construction of a separation wall that the World Court found in 2004 was being unlawfully built on Palestinian territory, a network of Israeli only road, a dualistic system of laws that have an apartheid character, widespread abuse of Palestinian prisoners, systematic discrimination of the Palestinian minority living in pre-1967 Israel.

 

Israel has been consistently defiant in relation to relation to international law and the UN, and has refused to uphold Palestinian rights under international law. Given this set of circumstances that combine the failures of diplomacy to achieve a fair peaceful resolution of the conflict and the unwillingness of Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law, the only viable option consistent with the imperatives of global justice are a blend of continuing Palestinian resistance and a militant global solidarity campaign that is nonviolent, yet coercive.

 

The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has become the great international moral issue of our time, a successor to the struggle in South Africa a generation ago against its form of institutionalized racism, the original basis of the international crime of apartheid. It is notable that the Statute of the International Criminal Court designates apartheid as one type of Crime Against Humanity, and associates it with any structure of discrimination that is based on ethnicity or religion, and not necessarily a structure exhibiting the same characteristics as present in South Africa. Increasingly, independent inquiry has concluded that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is accurately considered to be a version of apartheid, and hence an ongoing Crime Against Humanity.

 

It is against this background that divestment initiatives and the wider BDS Campaign take on such importance at this time, especially here in America where the governing authorities turn a blind eye to Israel’s wrongdoing and yet continue to insist on their capacity to provide a trustworthy intermediary perspective that is alleged to be the only path to peace, a claim that goes back to the aftermath of the 1967 war, and more definitively linked to the brokered famous handshake on the White House lawn affirming the 1993 Oslo Framework as the authoritative foundation for the resolution of the conflict. It has turned out that Oslo has been a horrible failure from the perspective of achieving Palestinian rights and yet a huge success from the standpoint of the Israeli expansionist blueprint, which included the annexation of the most fertile and desirable land in the West Bank and the consolidation of unified control over the sacred city of Jerusalem.

 

Against this background, there is only a single way forward: the mobilization of transnational civil society to join the struggle mounted by the Palestinians for an end to occupation in a manner that produces a just solution, including respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees. If this solidarity surge happens on a sufficient scale it will weaken Israel internally and internationally, and hopefully, would lead to an altered political climate in Israel and the United States that would

at long last become receptive to an outcome consistent with international law and morality. Such a posture would be in contrast with what these two governments have for so long insisted upon– a ‘solution’ that translated Israel’s hard power dominance, including the ‘facts on the ground’ that it has steadily created, into arrangements falsely called ‘peace.’

 

After I presented this argument supporting the divestment resolution several important questions asked by members of a generally appreciative student audience:

–“some people object to this divestment effort as unfairly singling out Israel when there are so many other situations in the world where unlawful behavior and oppressive policies have resulted in more extreme forms of victimization than that experienced by the Palestinians. Why single out the Israelis for this kind of hostile maneuver?”

>there are several ways to respond: the American support of Israel is itself reason enough to justify the current level of attention. Despite Israel’s relative affluence American taxpayers foot the bill for $3 billion + per year, more than is given to the whole of Africa and Latin America, which amounts to $8.7 million per day; additional to the financial contribution is the extraordinary level of diplomatic support that privileges Israel above any other allied country, and extends to pushing policies that reflect Israeli priorities even when adverse to American national interests. This is the case with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. The most stabilizing move would be to propose a nuclear free zone for the entire Middle East, but the United States will not even mention such an option for fear of occasioning some kind of backlash orchestrated by an irate leadership in Tel Aviv.

>the world community as a whole, particularly the UN, undertook a major responsibility for the future of Palestine when it adopted GA Resolution 181 proposing the partition of historic Palestine, giving 55% for a Jewish homeland and 45% to the Palestinians; even since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the wishes of the indigenous population of Palestine have been disregarded in favor of colonialist ambitions; Palestine remains the last and most unfortunate instance of an ongoing

example of settler colonialism, exemplified by the dispossession and subjugation of the indigenous population as a result of violent suppression. The settlers in this usage are all those that displace the indigenous population, depriving such people of their right of self-determination, and should not be confused with ‘settlers’ from Israel that establish enclaves of domination within occupied Palestine.

 

–“some persons have said that we should not push for divestment because it makes Jewish students on the campus uncomfortable. Is there some basis for taking such sensitivities into account?

>It is important not to allow Zionist propaganda to make us believe that being critical of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism, and hostility to Jews as a religious and ethnic minority in this country and elsewhere. Because anti-semitism did produce such horrible historical abuses of Jews it is a cruel and opportunistic tactic to mislead public opinion in this manner. Not only Jews, but all of us must learn, that we are human  before we are Jews, or any other ethnicity. I am Jewish, but it is more important to privilege human interests, and to avoid the narrow partisanship of tribal loyalties. If we are to survive on this crowded planet we must learn, in the words of W.H. Auden, “to love another or die.” It would be odd if as citizens of the United States we were to refrain criticizing the government in Washington because we didn’t want to make Americans feel uncomfortable. At this stage, we have an obligation to make those who shield Israel from criticism to feel uncomfortable not because they are Jewish but because they are being complicit in the commission of crimes against a vulnerable people that have long endured unimaginable levels of abuse.

 

–“Is there any reason to believe that the Israeli government will change its policies as a result of the pressures mounted by divestment measures of this kind even if implemented, which seems highly unlikely?”

>The importance of this divestment campaign is partly symbolic and partly substantive. Such initiatives are only undertaken after a prolonged failure of traditional means of overcoming international situations of extreme injustice. As such, it sends a message of distress as well as seeks to discourage corporations from making profits from transactions relating to unlawful activities in Israel, especially relating to uses of force against the Palestinian civilian population. Beyond this, we never know whether a combination of factors produces such pressure that those responsible for policy recalculate their interests and make a drastic change that could not have been anticipated. This happened to the white leadership in South Africa, leading to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, and a reconciliation process that allowed the oppressed black majority to assume leadership of the country on the basis of a constitutionally mandated inclusive democracy. No one now expects an analogous transformation in Israel, but it will surely not come about without making the status quo increasingly unsustainable for the oppressor as it has long been for the oppressed.

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