Tag Archives: Gaza Strip

GAZA: The Unfolding Tragedy

30 Nov

GAZA: The Unfolding Humanitarian Catastrophe

This material below was distributed by John Whitbeck, distinguished American lawyer and author, living in Paris,and doing his best to keep a group concerned with world affairs informed about latest developments, especially inthe Middle East. I also add a slightly edited text of a message sent by Robert Stiver from Hawaii, who has exhibited consistent empathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people.My press release below, although far less emotional than the cri de coeur that Robert Stiver wrote, issues from the same place of urgent concern for the brave and resolute people of Gaza. I hope that Robert is wrong however when he ends with self-tormenting words of despair: “What to do, in the name of common justice?  I know not; it seems useless, all useless.” Such feelings of futility are quite understandable, but let us do all within our power to make sure that this unfolding catastrophe ENDS before its full tragic character is totally realized.

It hardly needs to be observed that the silence of the United Nations and the global media is a continuing disgrace, particularly given the pomp and circumstance of those mighty statesmen who self-righteously proclaim a new doctrine: ‘the responsibility to protect’ (R2P) those whose survival and dignity is at stake due to crimes of state or as a result of natural catastrophe.

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Cutting edge Middle East news analysis edited by Oliver Miles
 Web Arab News Digest
Gaza: a disgraceAccording to a BBC report military action in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has been limited since the serious fighting a year ago in which about 170 Palestinians and six Israelis died. But tension remains high, as also between Hamas and Egypt where northern Sinai has been the scene of much fighting. Meanwhile living conditions for 1.7 million Gazans remain atrocious.

Reuters reports that Turkey has pledged $850,000, $200,000 of which have already reached Gaza, to alleviate the fuel crisis which has closed Gaza’s only power station and a major sewage treatment plant, so that raw sewage is running in the streets. Fuel deliveries by the UN have started, and are reported to be promised by Qatar. The immediate cause of the fuel crisis is the destruction by Egypt of cross-border tunnels, and the longer term cause the Israeli blockade.

We thank John Whitbeck for an “Action Alert” from the Friends of Al-Aqsa (a UK NGO) drawing attention to the first item below, a UN report on action needed to avert a humanitarian crisis. He comments that the Action Alert refers to the “smuggling” of fuel and other basic necessities into Gaza through tunnels on the border between Egypt and Palestine. ‘This terminology is standard media usage in Israel and the West, intended to semantically criminalize the victims, but, as a matter of both law and common sense, I believe that the use of the word “smuggle” is totally inappropriate in these circumstances. “Smuggling” is an illegal activity, usually involving a violation of the laws of the importing state. Under whose applicable laws is importing basic necessities into Gaza illegal? Certainly not the laws of the importing state, Palestine, or the current de facto government of Gaza, as to which Israel insists that it has not been the occupying power (and, accordingly, has had no responsibilities or obligations) since it withdrew its illegal settlers, locked the gates and, effectively, threw away the keys. If there is an Egyptian law banning the export of basic necessities from Egypt, I am not aware of it. The provisioning of Gaza with the basic necessities of life should be characterized as humanitarian relief, those who prevent Gazans from receiving the basic necessities of life should be characterized as criminals and those who are aware of the situation and fail to speak out should be characterized as moral bankrupts.’

The second item below is a report published by Al Jazeera on the impact of Israeli drones over Gaza, particularly on children. The author is a British journalist resident in Nazareth, Israel.

Gaza fuel crisis: UN expert calls for urgent action to avert a humanitarian catastrophe

GENEVA (26 November 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk today called for urgent action to address the power shortage in occupied Palestine  that has left 1.7 million residents of the Gaza Strip in a dire situation. More than three weeks after the only power plant shut down due to a critical fuel shortage, power supply has been limited to six hours a day.

“The situation in Gaza is at a point of near catastrophe,” warned the independent expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

“The fuel shortage and power cuts have undermined an already precarious infrastructure, severely disrupting the provision of basic services, including health, water and sanitation,” he said. “The onset of winter is certain to make things even worse.”

Less than half of Gaza’s total power needs are being met and disruptions to specialized health services, such as kidney dialysis, operating theatres, blood banks, intensive care units and incubators are putting the lives of vulnerable patients in Gaza at risk.

Mr. Falk highlighted the plight of patients in Gaza unable to seek affordable specialized medical treatment in Egypt as a result of Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing in recent weeks. “The Israeli authorities have been more forthcoming in issuing permits to Gazans in need of urgent specialized treatment, but the high cost of medical treatment in Israel places it beyond the reach of most Gazans,” he noted.

For the past two weeks, approximately 3000 residents, including children, living in or near the Gazan neighbourhood of Az Zeitoun have been wading through raw sewage on the streets after the largest sewage treatment facility in area overflowed due to a power failure.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that other sewage treatment stations may soon also run out of petrol to fuel generators and result in more sewage overflowing onto the streets of Gaza. Medical experts have warned of the serious risk of disease, and even an epidemic

“Up to 40 per cent of Gaza’s population receives water only once every three days,” he noted. “In this situation of dire necessity those who can afford to do so, are shockingly buying unsafe water from unregulated water vendors and distributors.”

The human rights expert believes that the main trigger for the latest crisis is Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on the vast network of tunnels and fuel tanks near the southern border of Gaza, which allowed Gaza to avoid some of the hardships associated with the Israeli blockade maintained since 2007.

“We mustn’t forget that the underlying cause of a lack of adequate medical facilities and specialized care in Gaza is a consequence of Israel’s illegal blockade,” Mr. Falk said.

The Special Rapporteur explained that, under present conditions, Israel has a special responsibility under international humanitarian law to take whatever measures are necessary to protect the civilian population of Gaza against this mounting threat to their wellbeing. “The failure to do so would be an aggravated instance of collective punishment, which is unconditionally prohibited by the 4th Geneva Convention,” Mr. Falk cautioned.

He also urged the governing authorities in Gaza to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in a joint effort to ensure that desperately needed fuel becomes available to the residents of Gaza at the earliest hour.

“Israel must end its illegal blockade and exercise its core responsibility as the occupying Power to protect the civilian population,” the expert said.

Last Tuesday, an aid convoy carrying medicine, medical equipment and canned food was reportedly permitted to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing for first time since June this year.

“Under these conditions of humanitarian emergency, the international community also has a responsibility to take special measures to safeguard the acutely vulnerable people of Gaza from impending tragedy,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

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.

Gaza: Life and death under Israel’s drones

Drones buzzing overhead are a source of daily trauma for Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Jonathan Cook: 28 Nov 2013

Jerusalem – There are many things to fear in Gaza: Attacks from Israel’s Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, the coastal enclave’s growing isolation, the regular blackouts from power shortages, increasingly polluted drinking water and rivers of sewage flooding the streets.

Meanwhile, for most Palestinians in Gaza the anxiety-inducing soundtrack to their lives is the constant buzz of the remotely piloted aircraft – better known as “drones” – that hover in the skies above.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveillance and extra-judicial execution in parts of the Middle East, especially by the US, but in nowhere more than Gaza has the drone become a permanent fixture of life. More than 1.7 million Palestinians, confined by Israel to a small territory in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, are subject to near continual surveillance and intermittent death raining down from the sky.

There is little hope of escaping the zenana – an Arabic word referring to a wife’s relentless nagging that Gazans have adopted to describe the drone’s oppressive noise and their feelings about it. According to statistics compiled by human rights groups in Gaza, civilians are the chief casualties of what Israel refers to as “surgical” strikes from drones.

“When you hear the drones, you feel naked and vulnerable,” said Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza City. “The buzz is the sound of death. There is no escape, nowhere is private. It is a reminder that, whatever Israel and the international community assert, the occupation has not ended. We are still living completely under Israeli control. They control the borders and the sea and they decide our fates from their position in the sky,” said Shaqura.

The Israeli military did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

Suffer the children

The sense of permanent exposure, coupled with the fear of being mistakenly targeted, has inflicted deep psychological scars on civilians, especially children, according to experts.

“There is a great sense of insecurity. Nowhere feels safe for the children, and they feel no one can offer them protection, not even their parents,” said Ahmed Tawahina, a psychologist running clinics in Gaza as part of the Community Mental Health Programme. “That traumatises both the children and parents, who feel they are failing in their most basic responsibility.”

Shaqura observed: “From a political perspective, there is a deep paradox. Israel says it needs security, but it demands it at the cost of our constant insecurity.”

There are no statistics that detail the effect of the drones on Palestinians in Gaza. Doctors admit it is impossible to separate the psychological toll inflicted by drones from other sources of damage to mental health, such as air strikes by F-16s, severe restrictions on movement and the economic insecurity caused by Israel’s blockade.

But field researchers working for Palestinian rights groups point out that the use of drones is intimately tied to these other sources of fear and anxiety. Drones fire missiles themselves, they guide attacks by F-16s or helicopters, and they patrol and oversee the borders.

A survey in medical journal The Lancet following Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, found large percentages of children suffered from symptoms of psychological trauma: Fifty-eight percent permanently feared the dark; 43 percent reported regular nightmares; 37 percent wet the bed and 42 percent had crying attacks.

Tawahina described the sense of being constantly observed as a “form of psychological torture, which exhausts people’s mental and emotional resources. Among children at school, this can be seen in poor concentration and unruly behaviour.” The trauma for children is compounded by the fact that the drones also disrupt what should be their safest activity – watching TV at home. When a drone is operating nearby, it invariably interferes with satellite reception.

“”It doesn’t make headlines, but it is another example of how there is no escape from the drones. Parents want their children indoors, where it feels safer and where they’re less likely to hear the drones, but still the drone finds a way into their home. The children cannot even switch off from the traumas around them by watching TV because of the drones.”

Israel’s ‘major advantage’

Israel developed its first drones in the early 1980s, during its long occupation of south Lebanon, to gather aerial intelligence without exposing Israeli pilots to anti-aircraft missiles. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, said drones help in situations where good, on-the-ground intelligence is lacking. “What the UAV gives you is eyes on the other side of the hill or over the border,” he said. “That provides Israel with a major advantage over its enemies.”

Other Israeli analysts have claimed that the use of drones, with their detailed intelligence-collecting abilities, is justified because they reduce the chances of errors and the likelihood of “collateral damage” – civilian deaths – during attacks.

But, according to Inbar, the drone is no better equipped than other aircraft for gathering intelligence or carrying out an execution.

“The advantage from Israel’s point of view is that using a drone for these tasks reduces the risk of endangering a pilot’s life or losing an expensive plane. That is why we are moving towards much greater use of these kinds of robots on the battlefield,” he said.

‘Mistakes can happen’

According to Gaza human rights group al-Mezan, Israel started using drones over the territory from the start of the second intifada in 2000, but only for surveillance.

Israel’s first extra-judicial executions using drones occurred in 2004, when two Palestinians were killed. But these operations greatly expanded after 2006, in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza and the rise to power of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

Drones, the front-line weapon in Israel’s surveillance operations and efforts to foil rocket attacks, killed more than 90 Palestinians in each of the years 2006 and 2007, according to al-Mezan. The figures soared during Operation Cast Lead and in its aftermath, with 461 Palestinians killed by drones in 2009. The number peaked again with 199 deaths in 2012, the year when Israel launched the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defence against Gaza.

Despite Israeli claims that the intelligence provided by drones makes it easier to target those Palestinians it has defined as “terrorists”, research shows civilians are the main victims. In the 2012 Pillar of Defence operation, 36 of the 162 Palestinians killed were a result of drone strikes, and a further 100 were injured by drones. Of those 36 killed, two-thirds were civilians.

Also revealing was a finding that, although drones were used in only five percent of air strikes, they accounted for 23 percent of the total deaths during Pillar of Defence. According to the Economist magazine, the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, which triggered that operation, was carried out using a Hermes 450 drone.

Palestinian fighters report that they have responded to the constant surveillance by living in hiding, rarely going outdoors and avoiding using phones or cars. It is a way of life not possible for most people in Gaza.

Gaza’s armed groups are reported to be trying to find a way to jam the drones’ navigation systems. In the meantime, Hamas has claimed it has shot down three drones, the latest this month, though Israel says all three crashed due to malfunctions.

Last week, on the anniversary of the launch of Pillar of Defence, an Israeli commander whose soldiers control the drones over Gaza from a base south of Tel Aviv told the Haaretz newspaper that “many” air strikes during the operation had involved drones. “Lt Col Shay” was quoted saying: “Ultimately, we are at war. As much as the IDF strives to carry out the most precise surgical strikes, mistakes can happen in the air or on the ground.”

Random death by drone

It is for this reason that drones have become increasingly associated with random death from the sky, said Samir Zaqout, a senior field researcher for Al-Mezan.

“We know from the footage taken by drones that Israel can see what is happening below in the finest detail. And yet women and children keep being killed in drone attacks. Why the continual mistakes? The answer, I think, is that these aren’t mistakes. The message Israel wants to send us is that there is no protection whether you are a civilian or fighter. They want us afraid and to make us turn on the resistance [Palestinian fighters].”

Zaqout also points to a more recent use of drones – what has come to be known as “roof-knocking”. This is when a drone fires small missiles at the roof of a building to warn the inhabitants to evacuate – a practice Israel developed during Operation Cast Lead three years earlier, to allay international concerns about its repeated levellings of buildings with civilians inside.

In Pillar of Defence in 2012, 33 buildings were targeted by roof-knocking.

Israel says it provides 10 minutes’ warning from a roof-knock to an air strike, but, in practice, families find they often have much less time. This, said Zaqout, puts large families in great danger as they usually send their members out in small groups to be sure they will not be attacked as they move onto the streets.

One notorious case occurred during Cast Lead, when six members of the Salha family, all women and children, were killed when their home was shelled moments after a roof-knocking. The father, Fayez Salha, who survived, lost a case for damages in Israel’s Supreme Court last February and was ordered to pay costs after the judges ruled that the attack was legitimate because it occurred as part of a military operation.

A US citizen who has lived long-term in Gaza, who wished not be named for fear of reprisals from Israel, said she often heard the drones at night when the street noise dies down, or as they hover above her while out walking. “The sound is like the buzz of a mosquito, although there is one type of drone that sometimes comes into view that is silent,” she said.

She added that she knew of families that, before moving into a new apartment building, checked to see whether it housed a fighter or a relative of a fighter, for fear that the building may be attacked by Israel.

Shaqura said the drones inevitably affect one’s day-to-day behaviour. He said he was jogging early one morning while a drone hovered overhead.

“I got 100 metres from my front door when I started to feel overwhelmed with fear. I realised that my tracksuit was black, the same colour as many of the fighters’ uniforms. I read in my work too many reports of civilians being killed by drones not to see the danger. So I hurried back home.”

 

 

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Robert Stiver’s message:

“I seethe with helpless indignation and rage at the despicable members of the “human” race, including me, who (i) perpetrate and (ii) allow this unspeakable tragedy to continue, always worsening, most often vindictive, all too often indifferent to the hapless-victims aspects of it.  And I must admit that I am as outraged at the God who, via the vaunted “free will” He is credited with giving us, has not yet found “His time” to intervene and put paid to this unending stain on humanity — a stain that, in my 20th-21st Century view, begins and ends with militant/political Zionism and its ever-present worldwide practitioners.

Sadly – how sadly – the Palestinian Authority and the quisling Fateh are in lockstep, fellow travelers with this miasma of shame and inhumanity.  Hamas and Fateh must overcome the USraeli “divide and rule” tactics and link arms as a solid force of resistance to the illegal occupation of their homeland.  Today, that must be the number one priority!

……..

And thanks to Turkey and Qatar for having the scruples to toss a few coins to the suffering masses, perhaps alleviating but by no means solving their torment…as I am mystified that they don’t join hands, trek to Geneva or NYCity and demand a white-hot emergency meeting of the UNSC in demand that international law and countless supportive UNSC resolutions be enforced.  Failing any action there, a certainty because of the US’ enabling of pure evil, the Turkish-Qatari reps should trek to the UNGA and orchestrate a (I’ve forgotten the term…”Uniting for Peace”) proper response and accompanying action.  The “response” would be overwhelming – on the order of 150 pro, 5 opposed.  Why cannot this scenario take place?

Let us pity – we have nothing else to offer – the brave, beleaguered residents of Gaza.  Our pity should be informed by mental images of the children there, slogging through a toxic mix of urine and feces, facing epidemics of pestilence ready to strike at any moment, lacking hope for any surcease of their everyday misery and for a future of human rights, normality and dignity — victims of a deliberately vicious, internationally illegal collective persecution (not “mere” punishment…persecution) of them and their families.

Today/29th is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  Where is the solidarity?

What to do, in the name of common justice?  I know not; it seems useless, all useless…”

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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.

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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

UN Human Rights – Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

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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.

An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Conseil Représentif des Institutions Juives de France)

30 Dec

An Open Letter of Response to CRIF (Conseil Représentif des Institutions Juives de France)

I am shocked and saddened that your organization would label me as an anti-Semite and self-hating Jew. It is utterly defamatory, and such allegations are entirely based on distortions of what I believe and what I have done. To confuse my criticisms of Israel with self-hatred of myself as a Jew or with hatred of Jews is a calumny. I have long been a critic of American foreign policy but that does not make me anti-American; it is freedom of conscience and its integral link with freedom of expression that is the core defining reality of a genuinely democratic society, and the robust exercise of these rights are crucial to the quality of political life in a particular country, especially here in the United States where its size and influence often has such a large impact on the lives and destiny of many peoples excluded from participating in its policy debates or elections.

It is always difficult to negate irresponsible accusations of this kind. What follows is an attempt to clarify my honestly held positions in relation to a litany of charges that have been given currency by a defamatory campaign conducted by UN Watch ever since I was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to be Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2008. What follows are brief attempts at clarification in response to the main charges:

–the attacks on me by such high profile individuals as Ban ki-Moon, Susan Rice, David Cameron were made in response to vilifying letters about me sent to them by UN Watch, and signed by its Executive Director, Hillel Neuer. The contention that Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also attacked me is misleading. She regretted the posting of a cartoon on my blog that had an anti-Semitic cartoon, but she took note of my contention that it was a complete accident and that the cartoon was immediately removed when brought to my attention;

–it was the cartoon that has served UN Watch as the basis of their insistence that I am an anti-Semite. Their bad faith is demonstrated by their repeated magnification of the cartoon far beyond what I had posted on the basis of its size on the Google image page for the International Criminal Court. As I have explained many times, I was unaware when I posted the cartoon of its anti-Semitic character, and pointed out that the post in which was inserted was dealing with my argument that the ICC was biased in its use of its authority, in this instance by issuing arrest warrants against the Qaddafi leadership in Libya. Israel was not mentioned in the post the content of which had nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Jews. To ignore such an explanation is to my way of thinking and to reprint the cartoon in an enlarged form is a sign of malicious intent; any fair reading of the 182 posts on my blog, including one devoted to Jewish identity would make it very clear to any objective reader that I have not expressed a single sentiment that can be fairly described as an anti-Semite. It is a grave disservice to both Israel and Jews to confuse criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians with anti-Semitism.

–the claim that I am a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, actually a leading one, is false, as well. I have consistently maintained that I have insufficient knowledge to reach any conclusions about whether there is an alternative narrative of the 9/11 events that is more convincing than the official version. What I have said, and stand behind, is that David Griffin and many others have raised questions that have not been adequately answered, and constitute serious gaps in the official version that were not closed by the 9/11 Commission report. I would reaffirm that David Griffin is a cherished friend, and that we have professionally collaborated on several projects long before 9/11. It should be pointed out that Griffin is a philosopher of religion of worldwide reputation that has written on a wide range of issues, including a series on inquiries into the post-modern world and the desirability of an ecological civilization.

–The recent UN Watch letter that led me to be removed from the Human Rights Watch SB city Committee also claims I am a partisan of Hamas, which is a polemic charge and is untrue. What I have encouraged is a balanced view of Hamas based on the full context of their statements and behavior, and not fixing on language in the Hamas Charter or a particular speech. When the broader context is considered of Hamas statements and recent behavior is considered, then I believe there exists a potential opportunity to work with Hamas leaders to end the violence, to release the people of Gaza from captivity, and to generate a diplomatic process that leads to a period of prolonged peaceful co-existence with Israel. I have never insisted that this hopeful interpretation is necessarily correct, but I do maintain that it is worth exploring, and a preferred alternative to the current rigid insistence on refusing to deal with Hamas as a political actor because it is ‘a terrorist organization.’ It was evident in the recent violence preceding the November ceasefire in Gaza that leaders throughout the Middle East were treating Hamas as the governmental authority in Gaza and as a normal political entity, and this helped bring the violence to an end.

–Finally, UN Watch charges that I am biased and one-sided in my treatment of Israeli behavior, and cites Susan Rice and others for support, as well as noting my failure to report on violations by Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority. I can only say once more that I am trying my best to be objective and truthful, although unwilling to give in to pressure. I did make an effort in my initial appearance before the Human Rights Council to broaden my mandate to take account of Palestinian violations, but was rebuffed by most of the 49 governmental members of the Council for seeking to make such a change, and reasonable grounds were advanced for not changing my mandate. I have noted Palestinian violations of international law wherever relevant to the assessment of Israeli behavior, as for instance in relation to the launch of indiscriminate rockets. Palestinian abuses of human rights of Palestinians under their control while administering portions of Occupied Palestine is outside my mandate, and I have no discretion to comment on such behavior in discharging my responsibilities as Special Rapporteur.

It is my view that Israel is in control of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and is primarily responsible for the situation and the persistence of the conflict, especially by their insistence on undertaking provocative actions such as targeted assassinations and accelerated settlement expansions.

I would grateful if this account of my actual views and beliefs can be circulated widely in response to the CRIF repetition of the UN Watch attacks.

Richard Falk

29 December 2012

A Shameless Secretary General versus Freedom Flotilla 2

2 Jun


             It is expected that at the end of June, Freedom Flotilla 2 will set sail for Gaza carrying various forms of humanitarian aid, including medical, educaional, and construction materials. This second flotilla will consist of 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara sailing from Istanbul, but also vessels departing from several European countries, and carrying as many as 1500 humanitarian activists as passengers. If these plans are carried out, as seems likely, it means that the second flotilla will be about double the size of the first that was so violently and unlawfully intercepted by Israeli commandos in international waters on May 31, 2010, resulting in nine deaths on the Turkish lead ship.

 

            Since that shocking incident of a year ago the Arab Spring is transforming the regional atmosphere, but it has not ended the blockade of Gaza, or the suffering inflicted on the Gazan population over the four-year period of coerced confinement. Such imprisonment of an occupied people has been punctuated by periodic violence, including the sustained all out Israeli attack for three weeks at the end of 2008 during which even women, children, and the disabled were not allowed to leave the deadly killing fields of Gaza. It is an extraordinary narrative of Israeli cruelty and deafening international silence, a silence broken only by the brave civil society initiatives in recent years that brought both invaluable symbolic relief in the form of empathy and human solidarity, as well as token amounts of substantive assistance in the form of much needed food and medicine. It is true that the new Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing a few days ago (but not fully or unconditionally), allowing several hundred Gazans to leave or return to Gaza on a daily basis. At best, this opening even if sustained provides only partial relief. Rafah is not currently equipped to handle goods, and is available only to people and so the blockade of imports and exports continues in force, and may even be intensified as Israel vents its anger over the Fatah/Hamas unity agreement.

 

            As the Greek coordinator of Freedom Flotilla 2, Vangelis Pisias, has expressed the motivation of this new effort to break the blockade: “We will not allow Israel to set up open prisons and concentration camps.”  Connecting  this Gazan ordeal to the wider regional struggles,” Pisias added, “Palestine is in our heart and could be the symbol of a new era in the region.” Such sentiments reinforce the renewal of Palestinian militancy as exhibited in the recent Nabka and Naksa demonstrations.

 

            A highly credible assessment of the Israeli 2010 attack on Freedom Flotilla 1 by a fact finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that the Israelis had violated international law in several respects: by using excessive force, by wrongfully attacking humanitarian vessels in international waters, and by an unacceptable claim to be enforcing a blockade that was itself unlawful. Such views have been widely endorsed by a variety of respected sources throughout the international community, although the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to evaluate the same incident has not yet made public its report, and apparently its conclusions will be unacceptably muted by the need to accommodate its Israeli member.

 

            In light of these surrounding circumstances, including the failure of Israel to live up to its announced promise after the attack in 2010 to lift the blockade, it shocks our moral and legal sensibilities that the UN Secretary General should be using the authority of his office to urge member governments to prevent ships from joining Freedom Flotilla 2. Ban Ki-moon shamelessly does not even balance such a call, purportedly to avoid the recurrence of violence, by at least sending an equivalent message to Israel insisting that the blockade end and demanding that no force be used by Israel in response to humanitarian initiatives of the sort being planned. Instead of protecting those who would act on behalf of unlawful Palestinian victimization, the UN Secretary General disgraces the office, by taking a one-sided stand in support of one of the most flagrant and long lasting instances of injustice that has been allowed to persist in the world. True, his spokesperson tries to soften the impact of such a message by vacuously stating that “the situation in the Gaza Strip must be changed, and Israel must conduct real measures to end the siege.” We must ask why were these thoughts not expressed by the Secretary General himself and directly to Israel? Public relations is part of his job, but it is not a cover for crassly taking the wrong side in the controversy over whether or not Freedom Flotilla 2 is a legitimate humanitarian initiative courageously undertaken by civil society without the slightest credible threat to Israeli security and in the face of Israeli warnings of dire consequences.

 

            Appropriately, and not unexpectedly, the Turkish Government refuses to bow to such abusive pressures even when backed by the UN at its highest level. Ahmet Davutoglu, the widely respected Turkish Foreign Minister, has said repeatedly in recent weeks when asked about Freedom Flotilla 2, that no democratic government should ever claim the authority to exercise control over the peaceful initiatives of civil society, as represented by NGOs. Davutoglu has been quoted as saying “[N]obody should expect from Turkey…to forget that nine civilians were killed last year..Therefore we are sending a clear message to all those concerned. The same tragedy should not be repeated again.” Underscoring the unresolved essential issue he asked rhetorically, “[D]o we think that one member state is beyond international law?” Noting that Israel has still not offered an apology to Turkey or compensation to the families of those killed, Davutoglu makes clear that until such reasonable preconditions for diplomatic normalization are met, Israel should not be accepted “to be a partner in the region.”

 

             In the background of this sordid effort to interfere with Freedom Flotilla 2 is the geopolitical muscle of the United States that blindly (and dumbly) backs Israel no matter how outrageous or criminal its behavior. And undoubtedly, this geopolitical pressure helps explain this attempted interference by the UN with a brave and needed humanitarian initiative that deserves to be strongly supported by the UN rather than condemned. Despite the near universal verbal objections of world leaders, including even Ban Ki-moon, to the Israeli blockade, no meaningful action has been yet taken by either governments or the UN. Israel’s undisguised defiance of the requirements of belligerent occupation of Gaza as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the First Additional Protocol appended thereto in 1977, is an unacknowledged scandal of gigantic proportions.

 

            Liberating Palestine from oppressive occupation and refugee regimes should become a unifying priority for peoples and leaders during this second stage of the Arab Spring. Nothing could do more to manifest the external as well as the internal turn to democracy, constitutional governance, and human rights than displays of solidarity by new and newly reformist governments in Arab countries with this unendurably long Palestinian struggle for justice and sustainable peace. It would also offer the world a contrast with the subservience to Israel recently on display in Washington, highlighted by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address an adoring U.S. Congress, a rarity in the country’s treatment of foreign leaders. Its impact was heightened by the pandering speech given by President Obama to AIPAC, the notorious Israeli lobbying organization, at about the same time. It is unprecedented in the history of diplomacy that a leading sovereign state would so jeopardize its own global reputation and sacrifice its values to avoid offending a small allied partner. It is in the American interest, as well as in the interest of the peoples of the Arab world, particularly the Palestinians, to end the conflict.

 

             The United States Government has long discredited itself as an intermediary in the conflict. Its partisanship, driven mainly by domestic politics, represents a costly sacrifice of its own interests, but is also objectionable as lending support to intolerable Israeli policies of apartheid occupation and colonialist expansionism. It is time to shift the locus of diplomatic responsibility for resolving the conflict from Washington to the far more geopolitically trustworthy auspices of Brazil, Turkey, Nordic countries, even possibly Russia or China, and to encourage a more active regional role. If the encouraging recent Fatah/Hamas unity arrangements hold up and move forward, Palestinian representation will be regarded as increasingly credible, and hopefully will actively incorporate elements of the refugee communities in the bordering countries into their diplomacy. It is time for the world to realize, and the Palestinians to highlight, that the conflict is not just about territory (‘land for peace’), or even to ensure an adequate Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, it is most fundamentally about people. Insisting on respect for the moral, legal, and political rights of Palestinian refugees is the litmus test of a people-centered approach to the conflict, and our concern for the future of these long entrapped refugees should not be allowed to drift off into peripheral space, as has happened in the past.

Welcoming the Tunisian Revolution: Hopes and Fears

22 Jan

Almost six years ago, President George W. Bush’s otherwise inconsequential Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, gave a speech at the American University in Cairo that grabbed headlines. While lauding the autocratic leadership of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Rice indicated a new approach to the Arab world by the United States in these much-quoted words: “For sixty years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.” Explaining further this new approach in Washington, she went on to say “[t]hroughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy.” Any close listener at the time should have wondered what was meant when at the same time she praised Mubarak for having “unlocked the door for change,” whatever that might mean. As it turned out, outlawing opposition parties and locking up their leaders seemed to remain the bottom line in Egypt without generating a whimper of complaint from the White House either in the Bush years, or since, in the supposedly milder presidency of President Obama.

And supporting “the democratic aspirations of all peoples” seems to have run aground for the White House after the Gaza elections of January 2006 in which Hamas triumphed, and the people of the Gaza Strip, regardless of how they voted, were immediately punished despite the internationally monitored elections being pronounced among the fairest in the region. It should be remembered that Hamas was enticed to participate in the political process as a way of shifting the conflict with Israel toward nonviolent political competition, and that when victorious in the elections Hamas immediately declared a unilateral ceasefire as well as indicated its openness to diplomacy and a long-term framework of peaceful co-existence. Maybe these Hamas initiatives were not sustainable, but they was neither welcomed, reciprocated, nor even explored. Instead, humanitarian assistance from Europe and the United States to Gaza was drastically cut and Israel engaged in a variety of provocations including targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders. In mid 2007 after Hamas seized control of the governing process from Fatah in Gaza, Israel imposed its notorious blockade that unlawfully restricted to subsistence levels, or below, the flow of food, medicine, and fuel. This blockade continues  to this day, leaving the entire Gazan population locked within the world’s largest open air prison, and victimized by one of the cruelest forms of belligerent occupation in the history of warfare.

There is another aspect to the Rice/Bush embrace of democracy that was disclosed by their avowedly disproportionate response to the indiscriminate bombing campaign unleashed in 2006 by Israel on population centers in Lebanon in retaliation for a border incident. In the midst of the carnage Rice observed at the United Nations that the Lebanon War exhibited “the birth pangs of a new Middle East,” while her boss in the White House described the one-sided assault on a helpless civilian population as “a moment of opportunity.” The point here being that when the people get in the way of imperial policies, it is the people who are sacrificed without even shedding a tear, really without even noticing. If their lives and wellbeing is so easily cast to one side in this callous geopolitical manner, surely the American posture of welcoming democracy in the region needs to be viewed with more than a skeptical smile. Supporting Israel’s aggressive wars initiated against Lebanon in 2006 and its massive assault for three weeks on Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 are clear demonstrations of the priorities of American foreign policy.

Actually, this pattern has far deeper historical roots. During the Cold War there were strategic excuses constantly being given by Washington that overlooked oppression and corruption in Third World countries so along as they aligned themselves with the United States in the ideological struggle against the Soviet Union and put out a welcome mat to foreign investors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union this geopolitical argument evaporated, but the economic and strategic priorities remained unchanged. This supposed American dedication to democracy has all along seemed schizophrenic, lauding its virtues, but often dreading its genuine emergence, especially if strategic interests associated with economic and military priorities are at stake as they usually are; consult the record of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ in the Western Hemisphere carried out under the aegis of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) if any doubt exists. Turning back to North Africa, in 1991 when the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) in Algeria won hotly contested elections for legislative representation, the military intervened to impose its will, Washington was silent, and remained so during the ‘dark decade’ of strife followed in which at least 60,000 Algerians lost their lives. It is part of the reality in the region that American strategic and ideological goals point one way and the popular will of the people point in the opposite direction. It is thus either hypocritical or a sign of deep confusion for American leadership to advocate democracy in the Middle East without being willing to alter its grand strategy. As of now, there is every indication of continuity in the American approach to the region, signaled by its passivity in the face of Israeli extremism, its continuing military presence in Iraq, and the degree to which keeping Gulf oil reserves in friendly autocratic hands is an unquestioned goal of American foreign policy.

Given these considerations what are we to make of America’s cautiously affirmative response to the Tunisian Revolution, or as it often called, the Jasmine Revolution? It is certainly prudent to be wary of the words issued by our government in particular, and to keep an eye out for its contrary actions, although such a gaze may well be obstructed by reliance on covert activities, and only when the next Julian Assange steps bravely forward will the public get any real understanding of the realities that take refuge behind non-transparent walls.

There is no doubt that during the more than 23 years of cruel dictatorial rule of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, the United States Government, despite the words of Rice, the ‘democracy promotion’ schemes of the Bush presidency, and the new approach to the Islamic world promised by Obama, found nothing to complain about, ignoring report from respected human rights organizations. As Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist and activist dedicated to the Palestinian struggle has written of the American response to the violence directed by the police during the Tunisian uprising: “Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women, and children in recent weeks.” Compare the strong denunciations of Iranian authorities when they used similarly brutal tactics to suppress the Green Revolution in Iran. The point is that geopolitics calls the tune in Washington, and this means double standards and the repudiation of the rule of law.

Indeed, Tunisia under Ben Ali exemplified what the United States seems to believe serves its interests: a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political, and even religious, expressions of Islam commitments and of leftist politics. The Arab regimes throughout the region that seem most worried by the regional reverberations of the unfolding story in Tunisia, while each different, all resemble the Ben Ali approach to governance, including dependence in various forms on the United States, which is usually accompanied, as in the Tunisian case, by aloofness from the Palestinian struggle for self-determination that is so symbolically significant for the peoples in these countries. There is no way for any government in the region to follow the Ben Ali path without becoming beleaguered and for the sake of its survival forced to rely on extreme repression, denial of rights, abuse of political prisoners, police violence designed to induce fear in the population and shield the privileged corrupt elites from accountability and public rage while exposing the mass of society to chronic joblessness, inflationary food and fuel price.

The spontaneous popular eruption in Tunisia that followed the tragic suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi in the central Tunisian  city of Sidi Bou Zid on December 17, 2010 was the spark that lit the revolutionary fire. This flame surge only could have occurred in an environment of acute grievance that was felt deeply and widely by ordinary Tunisians, so deeply and widely that in a few weeks time it shifted the locus of fear from the oppressed to the oppressed. This shift was signaled by the abdication of Ben Ali on January 14 to the sanctuary of Riyadh, a pattern repeating the departure of another bloody dictator, Idi Amin a few decades earlier. But the main lesson here is that oppressive regimes alienated from their populations are vulnerable to political bonfires that can be started by an insignificant spark in a faraway part of the country. Facing such a prospect can only make rulers dependent on force both more insecure and more inclined to extend the reach of political firefighting so as to achieve the impossible: spark prevention!

The martyrdom of Mohammed Bouazizi epitomized the plight of many young jobless and tormented Tunisians. This impoverished young vegetable street seller set himself on fire in a public place after the police confiscated his produce because he lacked a permit. Such an act of principled and spontaneous suicide is not common in Arab culture where suicide, if it occurs in a politically relevant mode, is usually a deliberate instrument of struggle, relied upon by Palestinians for a while and currently by parts of the opposition to developments in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Such forms of political suicide are usually, although not always, targeting civilians, and are inconsistent with basic ideas of morality and law. Bouazizi’s acts were expressive, not aggressive toward others, and recall practices more common in such Asian countries as Vietnam and Korea. When Buddhist monks set themselves on fire on the streets of Saigon in 1963 it was widely interpreted within the country as a turning point in the Vietnam War, a scream of the culture that was outraged by both oppressive Vietnamese rule and by the American military intervention. The intensity of Mohammed Bouazizi’s emotional funeral on Janurary 4 was intoned in these words exhibiting sadness and anger: “Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep.” In the end one hopes that these almost inevitable sentiments of revenge, however understandable given the background of suffering and injustice, do not become the signature of the revolution.

Another more hopeful direction was captured by a slogan that was said to draw inspiration from the French Revolution: “bread, freedom, dignity.” To be worthy of the sacrifices of those who took to the streets, confronting the violence of the state without weapons during these past several weeks, any new governing process must attend to the material needs of the Tunisian masses, open up the society to democratic debate and competition, and assert the protection of human rights as an unconditional commitment of whatever new leadership emerges. Not many revolutions manage to carry out their idealistic promises that infused the period of struggle against the established order, and quickly succumb to the temptation to punish wrongdoers from the past and imaginary and real adversaries in the present instead of improving the life circumstances of the people. It is not a simple situation. Such a revolution as has taken place in Tunisia is likely to beset by determined efforts to reverse the outcome, although a favorable factor has been the refusal of the army to side with the government. Powerful and entrenched enemies do exist, and rivalries among those contending anew for power will produce imaginary enemies as well that can discredit the humanistic claims of the revolution by tempting the leadership to launch bloody campaigns to solidify its claims to run the country. It is often a tragic predicament: either exhibit a principled adherence to constitutionalism, and get swept from power or engage in a purge of supposed hostile elements and initiate a new discrediting cycle of repression. Will Tunisia be able to find a path that protects revolutionary gains without reverting to oppression? Much depends on how this question will be answered, and that will depend not only on the wisdom and maturity of Tunisians who take control at this time, but also on what the old order will do to regain power and the extent to which there is encouragement and substantive support from without. As Robert Fisk pointedly observes “Tunisia wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Undoubtedly, Tunisia faces formidable challenges in this period of transition. As yet, there has been no displacement of the Ben Ali bureaucratic forces in the government, including the police and security forces that for decades terrorized the population. There were an estimated 40,000 police (2/3 in disguise mingling with the population to monitor and intimidate). It was said that friends were afraid to talk in cafes or restaurants, and even in their homes, because of this police/mafia state atmosphere– omnipresent surveillance, thuggery, and not knowing who was on the payroll of the state. So far most prisoners of conscience have not been released from Tunisian jails, sites that daily exposed the brutality of the Ben Ali regime, although some releases have occurred and more are promised. Heading the interim government are longtime allies of Ben Ali, including Mohammed Ghannouchi, his main aide, regarded as being more aligned with the West than with the Tunisian people, although these days promising to step aside as soon as order is restored. But even if such an intention is carried out, is it enough? At present, protests continue throughout the country, especially in the capital city of Tunis, demanding that the remnants of the Ben Ali era leave the government, including especially the cabinet ministers and Mr. Ghannouchi.

We know that the revolution came about because of the courage of young Tunisians who took to the street in many parts of the country, faced gunfire and vicious state brutality, and yet persisted, seeming to feel that their life circumstances were so bad that they had little to lose, and everything to gain. We know that the flames of revolution spread rapidly throughout, and beyond the borders of Tunisia, by interactive reliance on the Internet, many throughout the Arab world replacing personal pictures on their Facebook page with admiring pictures of revolutionary turmoil on Tunisian streets or as a sign of solidarity, posting pictures of the Tunisian flag. There were even suicides of regime opponents in several Arab countries. What we don’t know is whether a leadership can emerge that will be faithful to the revolutionary ideals, and will be allowed to be. What we cannot know is how determined and effective will be internal and external counter-revolutionary tactics. We do know from other situation that elites rarely voluntarily relinquish class privileges of wealth, status, and influence, and that Tunisian elites have allies in the region and beyond who are silently opposed to the Jasmine Revolution, and extremely worried about its wider implications for other similar regimes in the region that stay in power only so long as their citizen is held in check by state terror.  We also know that policymakers in Washington and Tel Aviv will be particularly nervous if Islamic influence emerges in the months ahead, even if vindicated by electoral outcomes. Fisk reminds us that Ben Ali was praised in the past for keeping “a firm hand on all those Islamists,” which was itself code language for bloody repression and a terrorized populace. It may even be that if Islamic oriented political parties demonstrate their popularity with the Tunisian citizenry by winning the forthcoming promised election for a new democratic selected leadership, then the counter-revolutionary backlash will be particularly severe.  There is some reason to believe that Islamic political forces currently enjoy great popularity in Tunisia, and that the main voice of the most important political party with an Islamic identity, Ali Larayedh (imprisoned and tortured for 14 years; and harassed for the past six years by Ben Ali’s secret police), articulates a moderate line on the relation of Islam to the future of Tunisia that resembles the development of recent years in Turkey rather than the hard line and oppressive theocratic developments that have so deeply tainted the Iranian Revolution. The role of the long repressed labor movement, and its Communist leadership, is not known, but it was clearly a presence in the demonstrations, giving a secular edge to the revolutionary fervor.

The future of the Tunisian Revolution is filled with uncertainty. It remains at this moment a great victory for the people of the country, and those of us in sympathy with the struggle for ‘bread, freedom and dignity’ must do all in our power to honor these goals and preserve this victory. A Palestinian journalist living in Norway, Salim Nazzal, put the situation well:  “..Arab observers agree that even if it is difficult to know where things would go in the future what is sure is that the Arab region is not the same after the Tunisian Revolution.”