And yet its [Ariel] proximity to Israel’s most thriving metropolis is misleading: Ariel is some 13 miles inside the Green Line, as the 1967 borders of Israel are known, and its location could hinder the territorial contiguity of an independent and viable Palestinian state, presenting a grave challenge to the direct peace talks newly revived by Barack Obama. [item 5]
There are 8 items below, including a five minute video (item 2) about how Gaza is trying to deal with the traumas that youngsters have experienced. Most of the articles and reports are long, so you might need more than just a single sitting to get through them. But all are informative, so I hope that you will try.
For the past 2 days I have sent reports about the unrest in Silwan since the killing of Samer Sirhan. Item one is on the same subject, but from a Palestinian viewpoint.
Item 2 is, as I said, the link to a video that is 5 minutes. We have heard much about the traumas that the children in Sderot and surrounding areas have endured from missiles shot from Gaza. But Israeli and international commercial media are pretty quiet about what the children of Gaza have endured. The video does not show you the terror that Israel inflicts on Gaza, but rather how one institution tries to help youngsters who have been traumatized. I do not mean to say that the youngsters in Israeli communities that have experienced missile attacks are not traumatized. But I think it also important to call attention to the fact that children in Gaza suffer too, having experienced more than their share of tragic events. You might want to share this video with friends.
Item 3 relates that despite promises, nothing has really changed with respect to Gaza’s border crossings. Gaza remains a territory under siege. Had there been no Hamas, then Israel and the United States would have had to invent it for excuses to keep Gaza wrapped up. Israel would be overjoyed if Egypt would take Gaza. But Egypt wants it not, and I’m not at all sure that Gazans would be overjoyed to once again experience Egyptian rule.
Items 4 and 5 are about Israel’s colonies in the West Bank (inclusive of the greater Jerusalem area). Item 4 is most informative and helps greatly to understand why the annual population increase in the WB is 5-6% versus 2% in Jerusalem and much less elsewhere. We learn about the perks that lure Israelis to ‘settle’ in the WB. That, my friends, is Israel’s secret weapon of expansion. Israel has no money for social benefits, for education, for health in Israel proper. But for expansion, the sky’s the limit!
Item 5 is a portion of a report in the Independent, noting the larger consequences of the colonies, namely Israel’s plan to divide the WB by means of them. Indeed, if Israel really wanted peace, why didn’t it start removing the colonies with the onset of the ‘direct’ talks? As concerns the paragraph at the top of this page, what the depiction of Ariel lacks is the information that it is built on the lands of at least 4 Palestinian villages—Marda, Yasuf, Kief l-Hares, and Salfit. All the colonies are on stolen land, and the colonists, whether they are fundamentalist idealists or just people who can’t afford to live in Israel—are living on stolen land. Of course they don’t consider themselves thieves, but the person who buys stolen property is not less guilty than the thief, in this case the Governments of Israel.
Item 6 is about 2 new innovations—1 that allows you with the touch of a finger to decide whether or not to purchase—that is, it reveals the origin of the product—if its origin is a colony, and you prefer not to purchase products made by Israeli firms in the WB then this is a big help. The second innovation allows you to keep track of the colonies also with a click. Both presume that you have the right equipment.
Item 7 relates the events of the attack on the Mavi Marmara by one of its passengers, and how the persons on the ship were treated afterwards. The title, Rough Passage, is decidedly apropos.
Item 8 is a demand by Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights Organizations for International Criminal Justice, and a request for letter writing on the subject.The world has indeed allowed Israel to do as it wishes when it wishes. It is time to pressure not only Israel’s leaders but also the world’s leaders to stop allowing Israel with impunity to torture, to kill, to imprison, to demolish, to steal!
I can’t wish you to ‘enjoy,’ but I hope that you will find your reading worth your time.
All the best,
1. September 25, 2010
Here is a report, in English, from Marwan Ghoul, program director of the Silwan Club, about what has happened there in the last few days
I know Marwan personally – he is a man of peace, who is always looking for ways to work with Israelis in peace and social justice, and to create a much better reality for people of all ages…
Please feel free to pass on this report to anyone you think would be interested
There is almost no reporting of what is happening in Silwan in the mainstream media, and we must help get the message out
It all started on Wednesday early morning the 22nd of August 2010 when a 32 year old Palestinian man, who was leaving for work, was shot by a security guard for the Israeli settlers for reasons that are still unknown. We only know that the Palestinian was killed by this killing settler. The Palestinian, Samer Sirhan, was murdered in a cold blood because he was shot more than once from four different directions and he crawled about 200 meters on ground bleeding. The people of Silwan woke up to this terrible news and they sadly and angrily buried their martyr. While they were doing this, the Israeli soldiers started throwing tear gas bombs at the people who participated in the funeral.
When the funeral ended, people of Silwan started to react to this unjust, meaningless and provocative killing by throwing rocks, but this time it was the soldiers who came in a hurry to protect the killers, because this is how it goes in the occupier government – the settler killer always gets protection. The Israeli forces started to separate the protestors using tear gas bombs in different directions. Many women, children and old men were suffocated by the gas and many had to go to Palestinian hospitals to receive immediate care.
Despite what happened and despite the presence of the Israeli forces, settlers kept on using their guns to shoot at the Palestinians, but this time under the supervision of these forces.
On the 23rd of September, things kept on going in the same way: Palestinians throwing rocks with soldiers and settlers replying with rubber bullets, life bullets, tear gas and light grenades. On this day more Palestinians were sent to the hospitals for many different reasons. There were many cases of suffocation because when Israeli soldiers threw these bombs they threw it toward areas which are inhabited by Palestinians, and these areas have children and women who are inside their houses. They can’t bear the smell of these bombs, and believe me, no one would ever be able to bear this smell…..
Today, Friday the 24th of September, Palestinians under the age of fifty were forbidden from going to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque and this for sure helped in increasing the tension. The situation became even more and worse but this time the thing spread throughout Jerusalem, Isawieh, Al-Tur and of course Silwan which couldn’t have a peaceful night since Samer was murdered. This morning the Israeli injustice forces spread all over Silwan and arrested a number of Palestinians without any justified reason. In the meantime the one who committed the murder was out on bail, by a court order. A complete irony but no one can say anything because this is how killers are treated in this unjust occupying state…..
Anyway I write this brief report and I still can smell the gas from outside and I can still hear the boys shouting and throwing rocks toward the Israeli soldiers, and I pray to God that things could calm down as soon as possible before any more Palestinians get killed. I say Palestinians because with such force the only side that is going to be harmed and treated bad is our side (the Palestinian)….
You, who are going to read this report, should know that words can never capture the real story, and being here is VERY different from reading a report….
Almost two and a half months have passed since Israel’s declaration on the alleged easing of the illegal closure regime imposed on the Gaza Strip. However, to date, no meaningful changes have taken place regarding the state of the border crossings. Statistics documented by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) on the state of border crossings during the reporting period refute Israeli claims with respect to the easing of the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip. Specifically, PCHR refutes claims that the entry of goods has increased in quantity and quality due to the reduction of restrictions imposed on the entry of goods since the beginning of August. Most of the goods allowed are consumables which do not meet the minimal level of the actual needs of the Gaza Strip. Raw materials, used for production, and construction materials needed for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip are completely denied entry. In addition, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have continued to impose a complete ban on the export of agricultural and industrial goods. As a result of the ongoing stoppage of production and the lack of development opportunities the Gaza Strip remains dependant on humanitarian aid.
Ongoing restrictions imposed by IOF with regard to movement causes immense suffering to the population of the Gaza Strip. IOF restricts movement from the Gaza Strip to Israel and/or the West Bank, including Jerusalem or abroad via Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, excluding limited numbers of ‘humanitarian cases.’ IOF started to prevent a new category of patients, those suffering from blindness and amputation of limbs, from traveling via Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing to receive medical treatment. IOF states that these patients do not need urgent medical treatment instead claiming it is a luxury. As a result, the number of patients denied access to hospitals in Israel and/or those in Jerusalem and the West Bank have increased.
On the other hand, Rafah International Crossing Point has been opened for more than three and a half months. The operation of the crossing point compared to the previous periods has also improved, which is seen by PCHR as a positive step. However, although the crossing point is open daily only limited categories are allowed to travel. These categories include patients officially referred by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to Egypt for medical treatment and urgent cases; persons working abroad and holding residency permits in foreign countries; students enrolled at universities in Egypt and who hold residency permits there; students enrolled at universities abroad; Palestinians holding foreign passports and foreigners who are married to Palestinians; Palestinians obtaining “private coordination from the Egyptian authorities”; Palestinians holding valid residency permits in Egypt; international delegations, including human rights delegations and diplomatic ones; international journalists; and Palestinians holding diplomatic passports. PCHR believes that these measures are a positive step but it hopes that they will make additional steps to promote Gazans’ right to full freedom of movement, including traveling freely from and to the Gaza Strip via Rafah International Crossing Point.
According to the observations of PCHR during the reporting period the daily average of trucks allowed into Gaza decreased to 110 trucks compared to 142 that were allowed on a daily basis into Gaza last August. This represents a decrease of 22%. This daily average of trucks allowed represents less than 25% of the trucks that were allowed before the imposition of the siege in mid June 2007. PCHR noticed that most of the goods allowed into the Gaza Strip include food items, excluding limited quantities of wood, aluminum, glass, electric and gas ovens, electricity cables, air conditioners, construction materials, furniture, plastic chairs, clothes, shoes, and limited quantities of construction materials and iron used for Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU). PCHR believes that if IOF continue to allow only limited types of goods into the Gaza Strip, the situation will deteriorate and there will be no positive change.
4. The Guardian Saturday,
September 25, 2010
‘We were looking for a nice, peaceful place near Jerusalem’
If the construction of settlements in the West Bank is meant to be on hold, why are Israeli buyers being offered new properties on Palestinian land at knock-down prices?
New housing under construction in Almon: ‘Residents do not fit the headline-grabbing stereotypes of fanatical settlers. There is a marked paucity of Israeli flags.’
The housing project currently under construction in Almon offers enticingly priced, spacious family homes with a garden and a view. The surrounding neighbourhood, also known as Anatot, sits on a ridge overlooking the Judean hills, near Jerusalem, a blaze of cultivated greenery in the parched landscape. Residents have a relaxed air, and newcomers who have recently relocated from Jerusalem wish they’d made the move years ago. If I were a prospective house-buyer, I’d be charmed. But I would not be looking here – because Almon is in the occupied West Bank.
It is a Jewish settlement with a population of around 1,000, established in the early 80s. Like all Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, Almon is illegal according to international law. But its residents do not fit the headline-grabbing stereotypes of fanatical settlers, motivated by a national-religious drive to claim land. There is a marked paucity of Israeli flags and no settler-slogan banners bedeck the streets. If the West Bank became part of an autonomous Palestinian state, residents of Almon would be unlikely to put up a fight, as the ideological settler movement has sworn to do. Instead, they would pack up and move back to Israel.
The settlement movement began almost immediately after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, seized as the spoils of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Settlers were initially ideological but, by the 80s, the rightwing government that came to power realised that greater numbers of, perhaps less politically-motivated, Israelis would have to be enticed on to Palestinian land. Israel has always argued that settlements are a strategic and military asset. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon – one of the settler movement’s biggest supporters – summed up Israel’s approach in 1998 when he said of the occupied territories: “Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.”
Yet in 2007, when the Israeli organisation Peace Now polled settlers about their motivations for living where they do, 77% cited “quality of life”, suggesting that economic factors and proximity to Israeli cities were primary considerations. That percentage can be split into two camps: there is the rapidly expanding, low-income, ultra-Orthodox community, which, priced out of Jerusalem, has migrated to nearby settlements such as Modin Illit and Beitar Illit; then there are secular or mixed community settlements, such as Almon. These are often located close to the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. And they exist primarily because the state wants them to.
In Jerusalem – just as in the rest of Israel – decades of state planning has priced people out of the city and into settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Meanwhile, ideologically-motivated budgeting has resulted in enticements and benefits for Israelis who live on occupied Palestinian land.
Settlements, and the resources, infrastructure and military might required to keep them going, are a major impediment to negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under international pressure, for the past 10 months, Israel has operated a partial freeze on settlement construction. However, the incentives still offered to Israelis to live on Palestinian land are so considerable that, leaving politics aside, it would be silly not to take advantage of them.
To find out how easy it would be to buy a settlement home on Palestinian land in the midst of this supposed freeze, I pose as an Israeli buyer, looking for a reasonably priced property for myself, my fictitious husband and the family we’re planning. Walking into a Jerusalem estate agency with an imaginary spend of £200,000, a realistic sum for an average Jerusalem couple, it comes as no surprise when the agent says, “With that sort of budget, you need to get beyond the city.”
I’ve already checked the housing market online and seen that the price for a home in West Jerusalem – four bedrooms across around 100 square metres – can start at around £400,000. Jerusalem’s housing problem is blamed variously on its lack of high-rise housing (in part because many observant Jews do not use lifts on Saturdays); on environmentalists, who have prevented the city’s expansion to the west (the only direction within Israel’s borders); and on the “ghost town” effect in well-heeled parts of the city, where foreign Jewish buyers have snapped up second homes, pushing up the prices. The housing market is under such stress that, last year, Jerusalem’s mayor wrote to absentee home-owners, asking them to rent out or sell up.
The agent suggests Pisgat Ze’ev or Neve Yaakov, both in East Jerusalem. Though these areas are defined as settlements by the international community, Israel views them as neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and has prioritised rapid Jewish development here, at the expense of affordable housing in West Jerusalem. However, at £250,000 for around 120 square metres, these houses might still be too pricey.
I certainly can’t afford a decent-sized property in the plusher Ramot or Gilo – also settlements, or “neighbourhoods”, within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. So the estate agent suggests Givat Ze’ev, a secular settlement a 10-minute drive north-east of Jerusalem. The agent doesn’t currently have homes to view there, but properties in this settlement – and many others – are advertised online under the category “Jerusalem and surrounding area”. A quick call to each settlement’s secretariat would provide me with agents’ phone numbers, and sometimes the numbers of private sellers, too.
Givat Ze’ev is a pretty settlement of 10,000 residents living in semi-detached homes on leafy, winding streets. It is spacious and organised, with shops, schools and health services. Everything about its planning is designed to make you feel as though you’re in a satellite of Jerusalem – there are no demarcation lines, no checkpoints back into the city, and the Palestinian villages, if visible, are behind a wall. Like so many settlements that hug the Green Line, Givat Ze’ev is on the Israeli side of the separation barrier that cuts into the West Bank for around 80% of its path. The barrier route runs, in some places, up to 12 miles deep into the West Bank, but settlements on the Israeli side of it are, broadly speaking, “consensus settlements” – ones that Israelis assume will be conceded to the Jewish state in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
At Givat Ze’ev there are plenty of large, affordable houses for sale, but the only new properties are on a recently-finished ultra-Orthodox project. I ask residents about new secular housing, but their response is, “Don’t you read the news?” They’re referring to the current 10-month freeze, but in August, Peace Now found that building on at least 600 settlement housing units had begun during that period, in more than 60 different settlements. Of those, it says, at least 492 were in direct violation of the freeze.
My search for affordable, secular housing leads me, eventually, to Almon. It’s a short drive east of Jerusalem, and I’ve had to cross an Israeli checkpoint, but it’s specifically for settler use – a nod, the “right” appearance and Israeli number plates get me waved through. Outside, a billboard advertises the number of the contractor, who confirms that 70 units are under construction at the site. The four-bedroom houses vary in size from 130 to 140 square metres, with gardens of up to 70 square metres, and they are shifting fast. The settlement is not officially exempt from the construction freeze, but Palestinian constructors are currently working on the site and homes could be ready within a year. The starting price is £175,150.
It is staggeringly cheaper than an equivalent property on the Israeli side of the Green Line, because it is on Palestinian land, confiscated by Israel. There are no market forces to dictate land value here, as there would be in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem. Instead, the Israeli housing ministry regulates prices, keeping them low to attract settlement. Campaigners say the contractor will also have received considerable state subsidies for connecting new settlement buildings to water and electricity mains – another saving that’s passed on to me, the buyer.
Calculating my hypothetical mortgage allowance gives me yet more incentive to live across the Green Line. All Israelis qualify for a state allowance, an add-on to the mortgage lent by the bank, but with more favourable repayment terms. Points are added to your basic state allowance if you have children, have served in the army, or if you are a new Jewish migrant. Then there is a top-up if you live in areas defined as “national priority zones”, which include some under-populated parts of Israel and all settlements.
For a new property in Almon, I’d get almost £11,600 as a special allowance. But the allowances rise sharply for Israeli couples who pick homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Illit, near Jerusalem, or in Ariel, around 25km east of the Green Line, or in Kiryat Arba, a hardline settlement near Hebron. For each of those, I’d get a total allowance of around £40,200. When I ask, the housing ministry says that state subsidies vary according to the “security threat assessments” pertinent to each area, adding that properties on the Israeli border with Lebanon qualify for similar amounts.
Israeli settlements expert Dror Etkes describes how, at times, mortgages given in the West Bank have “included loans which, after a period of time, turned into grants”. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports that, between 1997 and 2002, the state put 419m shekels (around £72m) into state-subsidised “association mortgages” for 1,800 apartments, most of them in the West Bank. The state comptroller, investigating these payments, found they were not included in the housing ministry’s budget. Responding to queries over this funding, the ministry said it was not intended for “the entire public” and that announcing it would have caused “unnecessary confusion”.
The veteran Israeli journalist and author Danny Rubinstein remembers a time in the late 80s when contractors offered free cars to those who bought settlement homes. Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem council member for the leftwing Meretz party, claims that at around the same time, Israelis invested in settlement property, left uninhabited, in the knowledge that at some point the state would offer compensation to evacuate it. He says the practice was “an open secret among settlers”.
Today, on top of my mortgage incentive, I’d get free nursery care for my children from the age of three, instead of five, as I would in Israel. Settlement schools are better funded, health services are allocated more state funds. I’d no longer get a 7% discount on income tax – that incentive was scrapped in 2003; I’d pay lower local taxes, but my local council would be twice as flush as those inside Israel, because of a central government funding bias. In 2006, the Adva Centre, an Israeli policy analysis organisation, found settlers pay 60% of the national average in local tax.
There are currently more than 200 settlements, including West Bank outposts and neighbourhoods in annexed East Jerusalem, and half a million Israelis live on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. B’Tselem says it is impossible to calculate the total state spend in settlement benefits, because “government ministries obscure documentation of the moneys in their budgets that are directed to the settlements”. But Peace Now estimates that settlements cost Israel $556m (around £355m) a year – and it is clear that this cost is keenly felt by those living within Israel, since the state seems to prioritise settlements at their expense.
Responding to international pressure, in 2008 the Israeli government debated a plan to offer settlers cash to leave the West Bank, a move designed to target economic settlers rather than ideological ones. The proposal – backed by then prime minister Ehud Olmert – couldn’t get through government. Yet there are currently thought to be lists of settlers who have expressed interest in leaving the West Bank, if compensated.
For as long as Israel has occupied Palestinian lands, there has been a dominant force within government that has kept the settlements project going. Driven by a mix of national-religious conviction, expansionist politics and military tactics, the settlements project has wholly controlled state agenda. B’Tselem describes the project as one of Israel’s main national enterprises. State efforts to pull Israelis over the Green Line have been so forceful that, as Rubinstein puts it, “You could say it was a bribe on a national scale.”
Israel has always played up the pain of dismantling the settlements. Yet as Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar writes in Lords Of The Land: The War For Israel’s Settlements In The Occupied Territories, the “elixir of life” for these settlements is their infrastructure: the electricity, water pipes and military forces that guard them. Remove these, “and this project collapses like a house of cards”. Today, Eldar describes Israel’s purported inability to do so as “a myth perpetrated by the government to make us believe that it is impossible”.
How hard would it really be to divert funds from the occupied West Bank back into Israel, thus encouraging settlers to move back – especially from somewhere like Almon, where residents have already said they will relocate if political realities dictate that they should?
One man who has lived there for 20 years says of the settlement, “It is not fanatic in a religious sense and not fanatic politically, either.” Other residents agree. “We came here because we were looking for a nice, peaceful place near Jerusalem,” says one woman, who still votes for the Israeli Labour party. “We didn’t want to annoy anyone, and we are not ideological… The settler movement does not represent us.”
The problem, as Rubinstein points out, is that what starts off as economics can eventually become ideological. “When you move [to the settlements],” he says, “you can’t say, ‘Well, I went there because I’m greedy.’ You change your political opinion.”
5. The Independent Saturday,
September 25, 2010
How far away is a Middle East peace deal? It could be as little as 13 miles
With Jewish settlements the biggest barrier to any agreement, Catrina Stewart visits Ariel, deep inside the occupied West Bank.
Unfurling a large map of the West Bank, Palestinian cartographer Khalil Tafakji picks out Ariel, a large Jewish settlement that lies deep in the occupied West Bank.
With his finger he traces an outline of Israel’s vision for annexing this area that would, he says, effectively carve a Palestinian state into two halves.
A small town of 20,000 residents, Ariel is just a short drive from Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coastline along a purpose-built highway. It boasts an impressive sports centre and a new theatre that is to open shortly, and its college was recently upgraded to a university.
And yet its proximity to Israel’s most thriving metropolis is misleading: Ariel is some 13 miles inside the Green Line, as the 1967 borders of Israel are known, and its location could hinder the territorial contiguity of an independent and viable Palestinian state, presenting a grave challenge to the direct peace talks newly revived by Barack Obama.
The settlements, illegal under international law and never so numerous in the West Bank as they are now, have unexpectedly emerged as one of the most serious challenges to achieving an historic peace deal.
When an Israeli freeze on construction in West Bank Jewish settlements expires tomorrow, it will pave the way for an avalanche of new building by ideological settlers, who remain deeply opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“This is a problem,” says Mr Tafakji, pointing out on the map, how Israel only has to insert a well-placed checkpoint along Route 60, the West Bank’s main north-south axis, to control movement. “If Israel were to annex this whole area, it would mean dividing the West Bank into two parts – north and south.”
Ariel is regarded as part of Israel’s so-called national consensus, a term that refers to the settlement blocs, encompassing many acres of unspoiled land, that are expected to remain in Israeli hands under a final peace deal. Unlike the other blocs, however, Ariel is situated many miles away from the Green Line.
Refer to Ariel as a settlement within earshot of its fiery mayor, Ron Nachman, and one will be given short shrift. “This is a city. I don’t want it called a settlement,” he says angrily. “Give me the [due] respect as mayor of the city.”
Terminology is important. The residents of Ariel do not see themselves as settlers. Most of them are Russian immigrants, who moved here in search of affordable housing and good schools. “I live here because it’s a nice city. It’s good for children and it’s good for housing,” says Rueven Cohen, an Anglo Israeli who works in the mayor’s office.
But Ariel received a rude awakening last month when some of Israel’s most renowned writers, actors and directors pledged to boycott five theatre companies’ performances in Ariel’s new cultural centre. Israeli academics added their support to the boycott, saying they would not lecture at the university or indeed any other institution in occupied territory.
The boycott reignited the debate on the settlements, long seen as a cancer by left-wingers, but largely ignored by mainstream Israelis. For the first time, it appeared that Ariel might not be as much a part of the consensus as its supporters thought. As Mr Cohen admits, “it was an insight into how Ariel is seen by other Israelis”.
Since Israel captured the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967, some 300,000 Israeli settlers have made their homes among the hilltops there. While economic factors are for many the primary consideration, a core of extremist settlers is fired by a religious zeal to reclaim biblical Israel.
. . . [for the remainder, which is mainly about whether or not construction will continue and its implications for the talks. D]
6. Haaretz Saturday,
September 25, 2010
New app makes boycotting West Bank settlements a touch easier
Ahead of settlement freeze expiration, Israeli bloggers release ‘Buy no Evil’ Android application to raise consumer awareness.
Israeli bloggers have recently released a new Android application geared toward informing users whether or not their potential purchases were manufactured in one of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The bloggers behind the new application are Noam Rotem, Itamar Shaltiel, and Boris Boltianski, who run the “Activism is an Open-Source Code,” blog, recently released the settlement-boycotting app, naming it “Buy no Evil.”
In a message posted on the blog ahead of the app’s release, Shaltiel wrote that Buy no Evil was “developed as part of the Activismos.com open-source project, and allows the insertion of a detailed product list, thus allowing consumers to deicide whether or not they wished to support this or that product.”
“It can be used to, for example, avoid buying products tested on animals, products originating from settlements in the occupied territories, or to support green products,” the message said.
However, citing the upcoming expiration of Israel’s settlement freeze, Shaltiel said the “first list fed into the app is that of products made in settlements, based on the information gathered by the Gush Shalom organization.”
“Buying a product means supporting the producer, and while we do not advocate a consumer ban, we do believe that people should be aware of which manufacturers they support,” the message added, saying that the Android app could be downloaded free at the Android market.
The announcement of the new Android app came after the leftist non-profit Peace Now introduced a new iPhone app earlier this week, meant to aid users track the growth of settlements in the West Bank.
The application presents a map on which the settlements are marked as little blue houses. When clicking on a house, the user sees the settlement’s name and the territory it occupies.
Another click brings up a window with more detailed information, such as the year of establishment, whether the settlement is economic or ideological, population type (secular/religious and national-religious ), the expanse of private Palestinian used by the settlement and a graph tracking population growth. Outposts are presented on the map in red.
Right group Peace Now promised to update the map in real time, including the setting up and dismantling of outposts, and to track “violence by Palestinians or by settlers.” The organization hopes the application becomes an instrument of tracking the situation in the West Bank as it evolves, and promises to develop Hebrew and Android versions. The application is free to download and to use.
“We get a lot of phone calls and emails with all kind of inquiries about the settlements and we wanted to have one place with all the information,” said Uri Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now.
“We realized we have a lot of data and a lot of graphic information, and then there’s this wonderful tool, Google Maps. So we brought together aerial photographs and Central Bureau of Statistics information and other data and made it into a website, and then we decided to tap into the popularity of iPhone and iPad apps.”
7. Haaretz Friday,
September 24, 2010
On May 31, former U.S. Marine Kenneth O’Keefe was aboard the Mavi Marmara in the Free Gaza flotilla. He witnessed the passengers’ preparations for a clash and the confused takeover by Israel troops that resulted in nine dead.
By Noam Sheizaf
BELFAST – “I don’t remember exactly how long we were at sea. Maybe three-four days. There were all kinds of delays, but the atmosphere was good and our spirits were high. I was certain we would succeed in entering Gaza. I brought my expensive possessions – a computer, cameras. People came to me two-three hours before [the takeover of the ship] and told me, ‘There will be an attack.’ I replied, ‘No, that can’t be.’ I really didn’t believe it. In the 2008 flotilla I was the captain of one of the ships and there, too, Israel said they would stop us by force, but in the end let us through. I was convinced that it would be the same this time.”
Belfast, Northern Ireland. Kenneth O’Keefe is sitting at the bar of the Europa Hotel in the center of town. Guests are seating themselves all around on comfortable couches for afternoon tea. Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong play softly in the background while O’Keefe describes his one-on-one combat with an Israeli commando unit.
Kenneth O’Keefe has no hesitations about saying that he failed completely to foresee the Israeli naval operation against the Gaza flotilla, even though he had a convenient observation point aboard the Mavi Marmara.
On the night of May 31, the former U.S. marine who became a devoted activist for Gaza found himself at the center of one of the major fiascos of the Israel Defense Forces in recent years. The confused takeover by naval commandos of the flagship in the flotilla that aimed to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip ended in a pitched battle, the killing of nine of the passengers, the temporary capture of three soldiers, 10 soldiers and dozens of passengers wounded, a revision of Israel’s blockade policy and a rash of investigative commissions, Israeli and international alike.
O’Keefe, who lives in Ireland with his wife and son, devotes most of his time to Aloha Palestine CIC, created to promote trade with Gaza. According to him, he boarded the Turkish ship in order to reach Gaza and advance his organization’s goals. After seizing the ship, the IDF claimed that O’Keefe wanted to get to the Gaza Strip in order to set up and train a Hamas commando unit, a charge O’Keefe denies vehemently (see box). O’Keefe maintains his political activity is out in the open and he offered to be interrogated while in Israel. Our conversation is his first meeting with an Israeli journalist.
“We knew there was at least a theoretical possibility that the Israelis would try to stop us, and Fehmi Bulent, the president of IHH [the Turkish NGO that organized the flotilla], told us from the outset that this time we were not simply going to sit and wait for the soldiers,” O’Keefe continues. “He said this publicly even before the flotilla set out. When we were at sea, the IHH asked some of us, the passengers, if we would agree to take part in the defense. I was asked whether I wanted to film or help out. Team leaders were assigned to every area of the ship. Our area was the stern. I was one of a group of six and there was a Turk who was in charge of us. Because of my background and military experience, I was appointed his deputy.
“On the night before the attack, a meeting was held of all those who had volunteered to take part in the ship’s defense. We were told that our goal was to prevent the soldiers from boarding the vessel, and that if they did board, maybe to try to disarm them. We were told explicitly not to use knives; even before we set sail we were told not to bring knives. I had a small knife that I used to peel fruits, but when I heard that no knives would be allowed on board I left the knife in Antalya.
“We were told in the briefing, ‘If they throw a rope with a hook onto the deck, throw it back.’ Things like that. They said explicitly not to kill. I don’t remember anything being said about the possibility that we would seize a few of the soldiers.
“That night we were told to rest now, because the closer we would get to Gaza, the more likely it was that something would come up. We were surprised to be attacked in international waters. We weren’t afraid. It was only just before the assault, when we saw the ships, the helicopters and the drones, that people really began to be afraid.
“We were resting in the sector that had been assigned to us when the boats carrying the commandos arrived. There must have been 10 or 12 boats behind the Mavi Marmara. We could see them getting closer, and when they drew close they threw stun, gas and smoke grenades at the ship. Most people don’t know the difference between a stun grenade and a real grenade. It was about 4 A.M. It didn’t feel like an innocent boarding of the ship, it felt like an assault.
“After they threw the stun grenades and approached the ship, people threw chairs at them and whatever came to hand. I tried to tell one of the Turks not to throw anything – I must still have been under the notion that they wouldn’t try to board – but within a few minutes I already saw the first dead body. It was the Turkish photographer. He was killed even before the first soldier landed on the deck. That man was not even on the upper deck. He was not in any contact with the soldiers. He took a bullet in the forehead and then he was carried to the stern, where I was. When I saw him he was already dead.” (For the IDF response, see box.)
“Less than five minutes after the [soldiers in] the boats failed to board the ship, the helicopters appeared. Now there was no longer any doubt about what was happening, but people around me were still in shock, not believing that it was really happening. Now there was also fear. I have been in difficult and dangerous situations in my life and I learned that at moments of tension the way to overcome fear is to control your breathing and focus on the things that have to be done.
“I went from the stern to the middle deck, below the upper deck, on which the soldiers landed. Just as I got there, one of the commandos fell from the upper deck, just a meter and a half from me, in front of my eyes. I think it was the soldier whose photograph was later published looking straight into the camera. The first thing I saw was the 9 mm pistol he was carrying, and I immediately tried to take it. The soldier was conscious but pretty much in shock, and it was easy to deal with him. I took his firearm but didn’t know what to do with it. The whole time I heard shots from the upper deck, both the sound of paintball guns and firearms, simultaneously. It wasn’t automatic fire, but there were a lot of single shots. There were many shouts all around.
“In the meantime, more people arrived and took the soldier inside. I went on from there to the middle deck holding the pistol in my hand, close to my chest and pointed upward. People passed me saying, ‘They are killing people, they are using live ammunition.’ I saw more wounded being rushed inside, and another body.
“One of the Turks asked me what I was doing with the pistol and I told him I didn’t know. I tried to find one of the IHH leaders to ask him what I should do with the pistol. I didn’t find the person who was in charge of our sector in the stern, so I went to the other side of the ship and then went back again, but none of the leaders was [sic] there. I went up to the command bridge and asked the captain if he could take the pistol from me. He said, ‘No, I don’t want firearms here.’ In the end I decided to separate the weapon from the bullets. I gave the bullets to someone and hid the pistol. The logic was that if I succeeded in getting out of there the pistol would serve as evidence of the attack on the ship. I thought the pistol was evidence, so it shouldn’t be thrown into the sea.
“After hiding the weapon I went back to the middle deck from the other side, when another commando was thrown down. This soldier had an assault rifle and was fully conscious. It was a lot harder to cope with him than with the first soldier. I and another Turk tried to take his firearm, but the strap was tied behind his back and he lay on his back and fought us. I saw that he was trying to reach the trigger, so we both made sure not to be opposite the barrel. He held the weapon so tightly that I had to pry his fingers loose from it. In the end we managed to get the rifle away from him and the Turk who was with me took it. Another two people arrived from midship and took this soldier inside, too.
“After a few minutes I went into the room where our wounded were. The three soldiers were there, too. They were without their masks, helmets and communications equipment and they were frightened. Very frightened. That was clear. They didn’t speak. They looked like scared kids whose dad is about to beat them. I think they thought that we would do to them what they had done to us. They thought they were going to die, or at least they feared for their lives, you could see that on them.
“On this deck there were people who had lost their dear ones at the hands of the Israeli army and there were people who had lost their friends just now, in front of their eyes. By this stage I had already seen two bodies and a few more wounded. In these circumstances, there is no doubt that there were very angry people who wanted revenge of some sort, but they were an absolute minority. We all felt anger, but from the point of view of the absolute majority and from the point of view of the leaders there was no question of revenge, or even anything like it. The moment the soldiers were below they received medical treatment and no one hurt them anymore. Before they were taken there they took a few blows, there is no doubt of that. I think most of the blows were quite superficial, even though some of them may have been more than just blows. As far as I know, no soldier absorbed an injury he will not recover from or that will remain with him all his life, and the moment they got below they were given medical care.
“After about 15 minutes the order came to release the soldiers. I don’t remember if it came over the speaker system or was given orally, but an order like that came through and six or seven of our people took the three soldiers and went out with them toward the bow of the ship. One of the soldiers was in worse condition than the two others. He had taken more blows and was in shock. The two who were in better shape jumped into the water and the third remained at the bow, from where the other soldiers rescued him.
“The IDF account according to which the soldiers escaped under cover of the melee and the shooting is simply untrue. I was inside the ship with the soldiers. There were at least a hundred people around the soldiers when the order came to release them. There was a small group of people, six or seven, who took the three soldiers from the room to the bow. There were shots or stun grenades there, and because they were about to be released anyway, our people just turned around and went back inside. Otherwise, from their point of view, what was the point of taking the soldiers outside? After all, there were helicopters and snipers there. If we had wanted to hold on to them, the right thing would have been to leave them inside.
“After the soldiers were released I saw another two-three bodies and I heard more explosions and shots, but less consecutively. A little more time passed and then the ship’s captain announced over the speaker system, ‘They have taken control of the command bridge, stop resisting.’ And that was the end.”
No invitation to tea
O’Keefe’s body is covered with political tattoos such as “Citizen of the world” and “Truth, justice, peace.” He is against all forms of nationalism (“It’s ironic that because of opposition to the occupation I find myself supporting a Palestinian national struggle. I long for the day where all people see each other part of one human family, regardless of lines drawn on a map.” ). He believes that the United States government was involved in the 9/11 attacks and views Zionism as an offshoot of Western imperialism. Personally, he does not call for an armed struggle and thinks that “the most powerful weapon the Palestinians have is the truth; violent resistance is nothing in comparison.”
In a BBC interview he referred to some of Hamas’ actions as “violation of human rights” but in the conversations with me he was adamant not to condemn Hamas: “I am against such attacks in the same measure that I am against state terror. Hamas has not perpetrated suicide attacks for years now, and when they won the 2006 elections everyone who prevented them from taking part in the political process is as much to blame as they are for the violence that followed. You hate them because they are violent, but what do you do when they take part in the elections? You kick them out and push them into a corner.”
O’Keefe has devoted himself to the Palestinian cause since 2004. He has visited Israel and the West Bank twice. The first time he was caught by the IDF trying to enter the Gaza Strip without a permit, was incarcerated for 20 days and then deported. In the flotilla of 2008, he was the captain of one of the two ships that eventually reached Gaza. He spent a few weeks in Gaza before managing to leave via the Rafah crossing. The suffering of the population in Gaza, he says, which he witnessed firsthand, together with the sense of honor and pride that the Gazans showed, reinforced his determination to continue the struggle for Gaza.
Were you present when Bulent said the flotilla participants would struggle to defend the ship?
“I knew before we set out that the Turks are not like the other Westerners, that there would be no passive resistance in this case. The Turks are a tough people. They are people you don’t mess with too much. In the United States or Britain people are asleep, there is no danger of rebellion. The Turks are different. I knew that if the Israelis boarded that ship, it would be a disaster. Not only from the aspect of the people who would be killed, but that it would also be a disaster for the Israelis.”
Did you see them sawing the beams in preparation for the attack?
“I knew we would defend the ship. That was stated publicly a great many times. You have to be an idiot to board that ship and think it will be a ship of passive resistance.”
So the same things would have happened even if the confrontation had taken place in the territorial waters of Gaza?
“That is my feeling, yes. Even though the fact that it was done in international waters – every Israeli will agree that that was a terrible mistake. If you attack, do it in the region of dispute. Apparently the army wanted to do it at night, because a trained force equipped with night-vision instruments possesses a tremendous tactical advantage. You know, the Israelis didn’t send police or riot units to handle the demonstrations. They sent commando troops who are trained to kill. Ehud Barak said he would stop the flotilla at any price – and that is what they set out to do.
“If they thought we were a group of passive peace activists and that there would be no resistance to boarding the ship, what was the logic in coming in the middle of the night and using grenades? It’s an insult to the intelligence to say that. Is Israeli intelligence so useless that they didn’t even bother watching international newscasts, in which the leader of IHH said explicitly that we would defend the ships bodily? Did they know so little about the mood on the Turkish street that they thought boarding the ships would be an invitation to tea? Or did they know all that and because of it came at night, with stun, gas and smoke grenades and sought to gain a tactical advantage, in the clear knowledge that there would be a confrontation?
“There were helicopters there with snipers. The first to be killed was the photographer. That’s the proof of the way the army behaved there, that and the 250 bullet holes in the ship itself, including places where there was no fighting.”
Israel claims there was a planned ambush for the soldiers by a few dozen passengers.
“How exactly did they plan to attack? That’s bullshit. When someone comes aboard with a rifle and shoots you, you don’t start to think, ‘Is it moral to raise an iron bar and protect myself?’ You do what you have to do. The theory about 40 or 80 extremists is simply nonsense. Where is the proof? Israel says the passengers shot at the soldiers. Where are the gunshot wounds? Where are the weapons, the shells?”
Didn’t the resistance to the soldiers make their reaction legitimate?
“I am not even going to pretend to persuade the Israeli public to adopt my point of view. It’s clear that the Israelis believe that the army had every right to board the ship, international waters or not. It’s clear that they believe we were terrorists or connected to terror. It’s clear that the Israelis believe that we had no right to resist, because you are right and we are wrong and that’s that.
“But if you look at it from a different perspective, there are a million and a half people in Gaza of whom the overwhelming majority are not Hamas, there are 800,000 children who are suffering from trauma and diseases. We wanted to help them. And in my opinion, that is also an Israeli interest, because the present approach to the Palestinians will not bring you security. We defended not only ourselves but also the mission, to aid innocent people. How is it possible to believe that it’s justified to punish 800,000 children? If you see things like I do and like the people aboard the ship, it’s as though they are your children. What would you do to save your child?”
But how could Israel be sure there were no weapons on the ship?
“Do you think there was any chance that the Turks would have transported weapons on their ship to Gaza? Israel could easily have approached the Turkish authorities and received guarantees that there would be no weapons and no terrorists on the ships. All that could have been done through diplomatic channels, if they were really interested in doing it.
“Personally, I have no desire or interest to bring weapons into Gaza, and I don’t think anyone else wanted that. It’s beyond stupidity. And what exactly could you bring that would be able to cope with the IDF? I don’t believe armed resistance against Israel is anything but a losing battle. One flotilla is better than 10,000 rockets.”
The second time I was to meet O’Keefe, the road adjacent to the center of Belfast was blocked by the police because of a suspicious object. The convoy of armored vehicles and vans of the security forces illustrates the fragility of the Good Friday Agreement that ended what everyone had claimed was an intractable conflict. In addition, one could not avoid seeing the support of the Catholic community for the Palestinian cause. Not far from Sinn Fein headquarters, two Britons were collecting donations for a new convoy to Gaza. It is those civil society activists who were shocked by operation Cast Lead in ways Israelis don’t always appreciate. During our interview, O’Keefe asked me at least twice whether I thought that the estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the Israeli public supported Cast Lead was realistic. “It’s very hard to accept that,” he says. “In the eyes of the world, support on that scale for bombing civilians with phosphorus is gross.”
Nothing in O’Keefe’s past indicated the course he would follow as an adult. He is from an affluent family and grew up in the suburbs of San Diego. He liked soccer and football, but gave them both up in favor of surfing. Politically, he leaned toward the Republicans and admired President Reagan.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 19. He was, he says, a good soldier, popular with his buddies, until during a six-month mission aboard a ship in the Mediterranean he complained about unbecoming behavior on the part of a veteran sergeant. His life then became hell; he still becomes overwrought when he tells the story. In the First Gulf War, in 1991, he took part in the ground invasion of Iraq. There was “no serious resistance,” he says. He paid no particular attention to the residents of the country he invaded.
“I was like all Americans, spoon-fed what I needed to know. I was so dumb that I didn’t grasp that Saddam Hussein had been our boy for years, because he had fought against Iran; that he received weapons from us with which he killed Kurds; and that suddenly he had become a new Hitler who had invaded a defenseless sovereign country. At the time I was also an avowed supporter of Israel. I would have told you then that the Palestinians are a gang of terrorists who want to throw the Jews into the sea.
“That’s why I don’t hate the Israelis: I see myself in them. I also bought into that stuff. I would be happy to meet with the Israeli commandos who boarded the ship. I would like to sit down with them and talk to them respectfully. I would tell them, ‘Considering the circumstances and what you were told, you are doing what you think is right. And you are fighters – I respect that. But I’m sorry, if you move away from the conditioning and the propaganda, if you are honest and fair and know history, you understand what these people are resisting.’ Ehud Barak said himself that if he were a Palestinian, he would join the resistance.”
After his discharge, O’Keefe entered college and underwent a conceptual revolution. He went to Hawaii and became a diving instructor, took part in activity to preserve marine life and started to take an interest in the indigenous population and in the “dispossession and land theft” that they were subjected to, as he puts it. In 2001 he renounced his American citizenship. Two months after the September 11, 2001 attacks he left the United States and requested political asylum in Holland.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, O’Keefe initiated Operation Human Shields in which hundreds of citizens of Western countries took part, in an effort to protect the Iraqi people bodily against the American bombs. “It was an extraordinarily powerful idea that simply took off, because people understood that the invasion was a disaster and was based on lies,” he recalls. “Before going there I gave media interviews and made it clear that I did not support Saddam Hussein, who was a tyrant, a murderer and a dictator. That’s why I wasn’t invited to Saddam’s palaces, as others were, but that didn’t bother me.
“In the end,” he continues, “the mission failed. People told the media stupid things that made it look as though we were working for Saddam Hussein. Saddam prevented us from visiting hospitals and from deploying where we wanted to. Ten days before the invasion I was deported from Iraq.”
Do you understand that in the eyes of most people, if you go to Baghdad you are Saddam’s ally and that if you go to Gaza you are the ally of Hamas? How could it be otherwise?
“Easily. At least hundreds of thousands of people died because of the invasion of Iraq. They could have been alive today. They are the proof that I went for the right reasons. How could I try to help those people without being accused of supporting Saddam? I guess there is no way. It’s the same with Gaza. Probably the most beautiful moment of my life took place on August 23, 2008, when we arrived in Gaza with the first flotilla. There was a special atmosphere in the port. There was excitement like we had just won the World Cup. Tens of thousands of people were there. No one believed we would get through, but we did. We knew it wouldn’t break the blockade, but it showed that it was possible to reach Gaza via the sea. For one day there was total euphoria. They looked at us like we were heroes, when actually we respected them more for what they had gone through. At that moment there was no other place in the world that I wanted to be.”
After his return from Gaza, O’Keefe founded Aloha Palestine together with Lauren Booth, the half-sister of Cherie Blair, Tony Blair’s wife. The organization’s goal is to maintain civil trade with the Gaza Strip. Among those who have endorsed the organization are Noam Chomsky and the Dalai Lama.
“In Gaza I understood that people cannot live only from aid. They have to be capable of buying food themselves, of working. I called the initiative Aloha Palestine because the Palestinians very much reminded me of the people of Hawaii: despite everything, they have remained courteous and welcoming. Aloha is actually a way of life. The Palestinians may not have much, but what they have they will share with you. As an American, you can’t go to Baghdad, but you can walk around without any problem in Gaza or the West Bank. People will look after you.”
In the sun without water
O’Keefe did not make it back to the Gaza Strip. The battle for the Marmara ended around 5 A.M. and the ship made for the port of Ashdod. “It took another two hours before it was decided that we would go one by one to the stern with our hands raised,” O’Keefe says. “A few dozen soldiers were waiting for us, tied our hands and searched us. I was kicked a few times, but it was very superficial, nothing serious. More attention was paid to people with a distinctly Muslim appearance. From there we were taken to a few points on the upper deck and told to kneel and wait.
“We were kept in that position until the Marmara reached Ashdod, at about 7 P.M. There was no shade on the deck and we had no food or water. An elderly man urinated on himself after all his requests to be taken to the toilet were ignored. At one point I tried to raise myself to stretch my muscles and a soldier shouted at me to sit down. When I refused he kicked me. A few others were also roughed up. It was unnecessary and unprofessional, but in comparison to the big picture it wasn’t serious.
“From Ashdod we were taken to a facility in the Negev [Ela jail in the Be’er Sheva prison], where we stayed two days. The treatment we received also changed radically. True, we were not allowed to contact anyone and had no access to a lawyer, but we had food and water and were allowed to smoke.
“Gradually the number of people in the jail decreased until only 50 of us were left, and in the end we too were taken to be deported. We arrived at the airport and there was someone in charge wearing civilian clothes. Under his command were policemen in special uniforms, black or very dark blue. [There were policemen, Border Police and members of the police special patrol unit at the airport.] It was obvious that they despised us. We sat in the airport and a few meters in front of me was an American named Paul Larudee. Paul had a black eye and deep contusions on his right arm and he was in handcuffs. Apparently he had been told that he had to go somewhere and he would not do it and lay down on the floor. He was picked up by the hand and started to scream with the pain of his injuries. We all got up and started to shout at them to let him go. The police came over and shouted at us and hit us. One policeman hit me on the head with a truncheon and blood started to run down my face. I did not resist but told them everything I thought, that they were shits and cowards, so one of them started to choke me and the others kicked me in the ribs.
“There were four or five of them on me. I couldn’t breathe. Just as I started to black out, they got off. That was the only moment I thought I might not survive this story. Others were also beaten in the airport and one of the Turks had his arm broken.
“I was on the floor. They handcuffed me and started to drag me. At that point I started to resist, because I didn’t understand where they were taking me, so they threw me on the floor again and one of them kicked me in the head while I was lying on the floor and my head was bleeding.
“When the guy in charge brought the policemen under control again I no longer wanted anything from them. Someone wanted to wipe the blood off my face and I told him to back off. Probably they didn’t want me to fly with fresh wounds and all the blood on me, so they took me to some detention facility in the airport, where I ended up staying two more days while the others had already flown back.
“I was held in a cell alone in the airport. I was not allowed to see a lawyer or to call anyone. The Irish consul general came to see me and begged me to agree to leave. I told him I wanted to see a judge. On the day before I left someone came in and said, ‘A judge will see you now.’ I entered a room and there was a judge there and he asked me questions and I answered him. Half an hour later he called me in and said, ‘You are being deported from Israel.’
“The night before I left I was attacked in my cell by two guards or policemen. I don’t know who they were. I was sleeping, they came in, beat me and left. So I had blood on my face when I was released. I would not agree to wash my face, even though the Irish consul general asked me to. I told him, ‘This is the way I was treated and I will keep the blood on my face. That’s how I will stay, or that’s how I will leave.'”
8. Physicians for Human Rights, Badil, Public Committee against Torture, Addameer, Fidh, DCI, PCHR
23 September 2010
A Demand for International Criminal Justice
For decades impunity has prevailed – and been allowed to prevail – in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Despite significant evidence indicating the widespread perpetration of international crimes, not once has a senior military or government official been investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the obligations of international law. This pervasive impunity has resulted in systematic violations of international law, and the continuing suffering of civilian populations.
Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip is testament to this reality. During the 23 day offensive, international humanitarian law (IHL) was systematically violated and civilians and civilian infrastructure were directly targeted; 83% of the dead were civilians, the so-called ‘protected persons’ of international humanitarian law.
The Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict acknowledged this reality, noting that “the prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action.” To this end, and in keeping with the requirements of international law, the Mission’s recommendations focused on the pressing necessity of criminal accountability.
To-date, effective investigations – conducted in accordance with the requirements of international law – have not been conducted either by Israel or the Palestinian authorities. This conclusion was recently confirmed by the UN Committee of Independent Experts. In particular the Committee noted that that no criminal procedures had been initiated on the Palestinian side, and that “there is no indication that Israel has opened an investigation into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw “Operation Cast Lead”.”
Procedures on the Israeli side have been characterised by an unwillingness to conduct genuine investigations and prosecutions. The Israeli investigative system suffers from fundamental flaws which render the effective pursuit of justice impossible. Of particular concern is: the reliance placed on ‘operational debriefings’; the excessively narrow scope of investigations; the decisive role of the Military Advocate General (who is implicated in a number of the alleged crimes) in the decision to open or close an investigation; and the lack of adequate civilian supervision (characterised by the margin of appreciation awarded by the Supreme Court to the decisions of the Military Advocate General, and the Attorney General).
Only 47 military police investigations – subject to the abovementioned flaws – have been opened. These have resulted in only one conviction for the theft of a credit card, and the further indictment of three individuals. While those opened investigations fail to meet international requirements, the overwhelming majority of allegations have simply been ignored. In violation of its obligations under customary international humanitarian law, Israel has proven itself unwilling to conduct genuine investigations and prosecutions; it must be unequivocally concluded that no effective mechanisms are available on the Israeli side.
Palestinian procedures have not resulted in any form of accountability, and have failed to ensure victims’ legitimate right to an effective judicial remedy, in violation of General Assembly Resolution A/Res/64/10. In light of the reality of procedures initiated to date and the practicalities of the situation (including a divided judicial and political system) it must be unequivocally concluded that no effective mechanisms are available on the Palestinian side.
Based on our organisation experience we believe that this failure is not an anomaly, but rather is in keeping with longstanding previous experiences. Effective domestic investigations and prosecutions are an impossibility. All Parties are unwilling or unable to fulfil the obligations of customary international law, and General Assembly Resolution A/Res/64/10.
Justice is unattainable within these systems.
Given this reality, and as recommended in the Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission, it is imperative that immediate urgent recourse be had to mechanisms of international criminal justice. Those suspected of committing the most serious crimes of the international community cannot continue to be granted impunity. Victims’ rights cannot continue to be denied.
This is an international responsibility: “To deny modes of accountability reinforces impunity, and tarnishes the credibility of the United Nations and of the international community.” This tarnished credibility is evident consequent to the UN Secretary-General’s repeated failure to fulfil his duty to report on the status of domestic investigations, “with a view to the consideration of further action”.
As representatives of Palestinian and Israeli civil society we state clearly that political processes cannot continue to be allowed to displace the rule of Physicians for Human Rights, Badil, Public Committee against Torture, Addameer, Fidh, DCI, PCHR.
· Request that the Government of Switzerland, as depository to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, urgently convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties with the aim of ensuring respect for the Conventions in Israel and the oPt, in keeping with, inter alia, General Assembly Resolution A/Res/64/10.
Physicians for Human Rights, Badil, Public Committee against Torture, Addameer, Fidh, DCI, PCHRinternational law and fundamental human rights, and:
· Condemn the failure to initiate effective investigations and prosecutions into all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law;
· Request that the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, ensure accountability through the legal or other tools available to the international community, including referring the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to the International Criminal Court;
· Remind all States of their obligation to investigate and prosecute all those suspected of perpetrating grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction;
· Request that the Government of Switzerland, as depository to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, urgently convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties with the aim of ensuring respect for the Conventions in Israel and the oPt, in keeping with, inter alia, General Assembly Resolution A/Res/64/10.
Physicians for Human Rights, Badil, Public Committee against Torture, Addameer, Fidh, DCI, PCHR