1. The crisis in Gaza - what you can do
2. The crisis - background
3. The Shministim – latest
4. The United Nations Human Rights Committee
1. The crisis in Gaza – what you can do
The situation in Gaza has become critical with over 200 people, mainly civilians, reported dead on the first day of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza strip.
Join the protests
* Sunday 28 December 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm
* Monday 29 December 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Opposite the Israeli Embassy – Kensington High Street
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington
You can also:
* Circulate the Open Letter to Gordon Brown which Jews for Justice for Palestinians has issued (see below). Send it to MPs, local media, synagogues, members of the Board of Deputies etc
* Support the Palestinian human rights community calls for international action (see below). Send messages of support to email@example.com
* Protest to your MP, the Labour party, the Conservative party, the British Consulate in Jerusalem, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Prime Minister – contact details below
Emphasize the international law violations in any condemnations of the new war on Gaza.
The Israeli actions are clear war crimes — violations of international humanitarian law, involving
1) Collective punishment (a whole population is being punished for actions of a few militants).
2) Attacking civilians of a protected population (they’re in civilian areas, Gaza being one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world & certainly most densely populated in the middle east).
3) Disproportionate action (they’ve destroyed the entire security infrastructure of 1.5 million people).
And stress the impact of earlier Israeli actions that have led to medical & fuel shortages so ambulances can’t respond, nor hospitals receive or treat the injured (Egypt has apparently opened the Rafah crossing & emptied two hospitals to take the Gaza wounded).
See also the points made in the letter from the Palestinian human rights community and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (both below).
(a) Open letter from Jews for Justice for Palestinians to Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP:
In the light of Israeli air strikes against the Gazan population, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), the largest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe, has today, Sunday 29 December 2008, released this open letter to Gordon Brown:
Dear Prime Minister
At the time of writing, almost 300 Gazans are dead, hundreds more wounded. The air strikes appear to be aimed indiscriminately at both civilian and military targets. Israel is using its extensive military power to wreak carnage on innocent civilians. This is a condemnable act of mindless violence, and we call upon you and the international community to intervene immediately.
Claiming that this is an action to stop rocket fire is a wholly unpersuasive argument. The six-month ceasefire has been squandered by Israel. The populations of Sderot, Ashkelon and southern Israel have been left unprotected by their own government, which has failed to either build shelters or make a more lasting agreement. The Israeli government is exploiting the understandable fear of their own citizens as an excuse for today’s strikes.
The Israeli government steadily sought to break down the ceasefire, not just in Gaza since early November, but also in the West Bank. Israeli forces have carried out an average of 33 incursions, 42 arrests or detentions, 12 woundings and 0.84 killings a week in the West Bank during the ceasefire. The tactic has been to continue attacking Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, provoking responses in Gaza, and to use the responses as the pretext for the massive attacks of the last 24 hours.
On 23rd December Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire if Israel would undertake to open border crossings for supplies of aid and fuel, and halt incursions. For those of us appalled at the collective punishment involved in the ongoing siege, and concerned that Israelis should not fear death or injury from Qassam rockets, that seems a truly reasonable response.
For Israel to reject it bespeaks a bankrupt body politic especially since the army and the politicians are acting against the wishes of the Israeli public. It is after all the civilians on both sides who will bear the brunt of this dangerous folly.
You regard yourself as a strong friend of Israel. When a friend crosses acceptable lines of behaviour as Israel has again done, one has a responsibility to intervene.
Sylvia Cohen, International Liaison
Diana Neslen, Campaigns Co-ordinator
for Jews for Justice for Palestinians
(b) Palestinian human rights community calls for international action
Urgent Release, 27 December 2008
Palestinian human rights organizations strongly condemn the recent military attacks carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008. The attacks began at approximately 11:30 am and lasted for approximately three hours. These attacks have destroyed most of the Gaza security offices including police stations, resulting in the deaths of over 200 Palestinians. More than 350 have been injured with over 120 critically.
The number of deaths resulting from these attacks indicates a willful targeting of the civilian police forces in these locations and a clear violation of the prohibition against willful killings. Willful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147 and therefore, a War Crime. Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centres and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children.
The ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip has left medical facilities in the Strip incapable of meeting the needs of the hundreds more who have been injured which will likely lead to an increase in the number of deaths. According to Israeli officials, these attacks are only the beginning of an open military campaign in Gaza. It is therefore imperative that the international community not stand in silence while Israel moves forward with impunity.
Despite repeated calls from the Palestinian human rights community with regard to Gaza, the international community has failed to act. We are now on the brink of an explosion of violence as result of this failure and are pushed once again to call for action.
In light of the above, Palestinian human rights organisations urge:
• The UN Security Council to call an emergency session and adopt concrete measures, including the imposition of sanctions, in order to ensure Israel’s fulfilment of its obligations under international humanitarian law.
• The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfil their obligation under common Article 1 to ensure respect for the provisions of the Conventions, taking appropriate measures to compel Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular placing pivotal importance on the respect and protection of civilians from the effects of the hostilities.
• The High Contracting Parties to fulfil their legal obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of the Convention.
• EU institutions and member states to make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions, as well as cessation of all upgrade dialogue with Israel.
Addameer Prisoners’ Support & Human Rights Association
Ad-Dameer Association for Human Rights
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
Defence for Children International
Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR)
Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC)
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession – Musawa
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)
Women’s Studies Center
The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Network – PNGO
(c) Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights letter to David Miliband, 27 December
I am writing to you to urge you to immediately call on Israel to cease all its attacks on Gaza.
I am horrified to learn that over 200 people have reportedly been killed in Gaza in the last few hours, many of them entirely innocent civilians, a significant number believed to be schoolchildren returning home from morning lessons.
I refer to the letter that I wrote to you four days ago (attached), in the wake of news reports that Israel was ‘softening up’ the international community for a full scale assault on Gaza. Those reports were followed, inter alia, by Tzip Livni’s trip to Cairo to meet with President Mubarek, presumably to seek his complicity in today’s terrible events.
As Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and many other observers feared, Israeli rhetoric of avoiding civilian loss of life is not rooted in a proper application of the legal principles of proportionality and distinction. Today’s events are not proportionate acts of self-defence.
I do not believe that Israel has made a lawful case for the wholesale targeting of Hamas. I believe from news reports that one target struck today was a graduation ceremony of police officers employed by the Hamas government – what evidence is there of any connection between rockets fired by militants, whether under the direction of Hamas or otherwise, and these trainee police officers?
But in any event, striking populated areas with the kind of force used by Israel today, even if some of the targets were in principle legitimate military targets, can never be in compliance with an ordinary understanding of the laws of war. Israel’s acts are therefore war crimes and crimes against humanity and everything possible will be done within the law to bring all those concerned to justice, including any third parties against whom there is evidence that they have aided and abetted these crimes.
Many more civilians will be killed if Israel does not cease its attacks immediately.
I urge you to immediately contact other foreign ministers to arrange an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution requiring an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and calling on the international community to collect evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The response of the international community in urging Israel to minimise civilian casualties is entirely unacceptable when many innocent civilians, including children, have been killed in the past few hours. Israel must be pushed to immediately cease all its attacks.
The international community must accept that it has a moral and arguably a legal imperative to bring an end to the violence unfolding in Gaza.
Chair, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
(d) other statements can be found here including:
Gush Shalom press release, December 27, 2008
The war in Gaza – a vicious folly of a bankrupt government
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
ISRAEL: END THE ATTACKS ON GAZA IMMEDIATELY!
ENTER INTO GENUINE NEGOTIATIONS TO END THE OCCUPATION NOW!
AIC Condemns Deadly Attacks on Gaza, Calls for Civil Society Mobilization, International Sanctions
(e) Send messages in protest
1. Write to your MP
You can find your MPs details on this site http://www.writetothem.com/
Just enter your postcode. If you don’t live in the UK you can write to the MP at your last address.
2. Write to the Labour Party
You can send a message to the Labour Party using this online form http://www.labour.org.uk/contact
3. Write to the Conservative Party
Write to David Cameron firstname.lastname@example.org
You could mention you are appalled that he has been on the BBC calling for restraint on all sides when nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed.
4. British Consulate Jerusalem
972 (02) 541 4100
5. British Embassy Tel Aviv
02 3510 1167 / (0)3 527 1572
6. Prime Minister – Gordon Brown
Fax PM’s office on +442079250918
7. Support the Israeli Coalition against the Siege of Gaza which organised a demonstration against the impending war in Tel Aviv.
Its demands were to:
* Stop the siege on Gaza
* Negotiate with Hamas and renew the truce
* Stop the military offensive and propose a political solution to end the occupation
* Learn from the Second Lebanon War! A military assault will not stop the missiles! Only an agreement can bring calm!
We sent a message of support:
‘Jews For Justice for Palestinians from the United Kingdom stand with the Coalition against the Siege on Gaza in the Demonstration today. We are horrified when we hear the drums of war beating again, recognising as we do that war is the problem not the solution.
We know that Hamas promised on 23rd December that they would consider a renewal of the ceasefire if Israel would guarantee that border crossings will remain open for supplies of aid and fuel, and halt incursions. For those of us appalled at the collective punishment involved in the ongoing siege, that seems a truly reasonable response. For Israel to reject it bespeaks a bankrupt body politic especially since the army and the politicians are acting against the wishes of the Israeli public. It is after all the civilians on both sides who will bear the brunt of this dangerous folly.
We support your stand and wish you to know that there are many throughout the world hoping that even at this last minute sense and not bloodletting will prevail.’
Send messages of support to email@example.com
2. On the current crisis: background (additional to that in recent newsletters – see http://www.jfjfp.org/newsletters.htm)
(a) Hamas’s offensive and defensive capabilities have increased markedly in the last couple of years, according to Harel and Issacharoff.
(b) Neither Fatah nor Hamas have a clear interest in reconciliation, both believing they have more to gain by prioritising their partisan interests, according to a new International Crisis Group report.
(c) Gisha has taken further legal advice which confirms, yet again, its view that the blockade of Gaza constitutes ‘a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians’.
(d) Sara Roy looks at the implications ‘If Gaza Falls’ in the London Review of Books.
(e) Uri Avnery’s 13 December article, Spot the Difference, on the forthcoming Israeli elections is particularly pertinent now.
(f) As is Seth Freedman’s contribution to Comment if Free, 17 December ‘Remove the blinkers and see the truth’
(a) Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff take ‘A hard look at Hamas’ capabilities’ (Ha’aretz, 26 December)
Harel and Issacharoff take a sober look at the improvement in Hamas’s training and equipment over the last two years. While there is little doubt of the IDF’s ability to reoccupy the territory, casualties are likely to be high – both in Gaza and as a result of a barrage of missiles into Southern Israel.
‘Israeli reservations about a broad military operation, therefore, are mainly linked to the question of what happens afterward, when the IDF controls a large area that it doesn’t want and is in constant friction with terrorists and the civilian population.’
(b) A new International Crisis Group briefing ‘Palestine Divided’ was published on 17 December.
It provides important background to the looming conflict, and offers no short-term comfort.
It argues that the current reconciliation process between the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) is a continuation of their struggle through other means. Prioritising partisan concerns over the national interest, both see greater cost than reward in compromise. Without regional and international incentives to shift this calculus, Palestine’s political-territorial division will only deepen.
Changing the dynamics that have convinced both Fatah and Hamas that time is on their side will be daunting. At a minimum, it will require both a change in the regional landscape (through U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran) and a clear signal from the international community that this time they would not oppose a Fatah-Hamas partnership; would judge the government not by composition but by its conduct; and would assess the Islamist movement on a more pragmatic basis.
Read the full Crisis Group report on its website.
(or, if that is still down, can be found on the relifefweb website.)
c) Gisha confirms that the blockade of Gaza constitutes ‘a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians’.
Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, 17 December, writes:
“Gisha has published a detailed legal opinion regarding the closure of the Gaza Strip. The publication, which was sent to Israeli Cabinet ministers as well as to the Attorney General, seeks to clarify Gisha’s position that the restrictions on the passage of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip cannot be considered a siege, a blockade or an economic sanction – but rather constitute a closure imposed for the illegal purpose of collective punishment against civilians.
The purpose of the publication is to de-mystify the terminology being used and misused to describe the closure of Gaza in order to dispel any uncertainty regarding Israel’s responsibility towards residents of Gaza and accountability for the rights violations occurring as a result of the closure. The closure should be called by what it is: collective punishment.
d) Sara Roy writes ‘If Gaza Falls’ in the London Review of Books (1 Jan 2009)
‘The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored…
How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children – more than 50 per cent of the population – benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next.’
e) Uri Avnery’s 13 December article, ‘Spot the Difference’, on the forthcoming Israeli elections is particularly pertinent
A MAN was asked about his sons. “I have three,” he said, “but one of them is a complete idiot.”
“Which one?” they asked.
“Take your pick,” he replied.
In 51 days, we shall vote for a new Knesset and a new government.
Three big parties are competing for the prize: Kadima, Likud and Labor…
‘Not one of the three has offered any peace plan at all. Only hollow words. Only spin.’
‘The choice between them is a choice between bad, worse and still worse. Between toothache, migraine and backache.
Nothing good will come out of this election. The question is only how bad the results will be.’
(f) Remove the blinkers and see the truth
Seth Freedman writes in Comment is Free, 17 December:
“For two years I have detailed the abuses and miscarriages of justice I witness on every foray I make into the West Bank, and for two years I’ve been buried under an avalanche of hate in response. It was, is, and will continue to be water off a duck’s back, regardless of the outraged responses on the threads, since I’m convinced that the only way to effect change is for the truth to be brought to light. And if I can play a small part in helping that to occur, then nothing and no one is strong enough to act as a deterrent.”
3. The Shministim – latest
A few days after the December 18th rally in Israel, the day after Tamar Katz was finally released from solitary confinement, the young Shministim gathered in a room to celebrate and to decide what they wanted to say to those who had expressed their support for them. This is the message they wrote together:
Dear friends and supporters,
On the eve of Hanuka, the festival of lights, we, the Shministim, would like to take a moment to thank you for all you’ve done for us and for our struggle.
While we sit down with our families and light the first candle of the holiday, symbolizing the rebellion against an occupying army, some of us are still behind bars, denied the freedom to celebrate the holiday with their loved ones, denied the right to freedom of thought and political consciousness.
During this dark period of consecutive jail terms, military trials and attempts to break our beliefs, you were our light.
Each and every one of you who helped with the campaign, who sent a supporting letter, who sent the link of the website to a friend. You’ve let our struggle be heard around the world, the letters, the postcards and posters, the demonstrations, all of those actions fulfilled our wildest dreams.
We would like to thank you once again and wish you all a happy and free holiday.
P.S. The Shministim have asked that you click on this link if you would like to get regular updates about what is happening to them in Israel: http://groups.google.com/group/refuseileng/subscribe.
4. The United Nations Human Rights Committee
On March 26, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton, to a six-year term as a special investigator on Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories. Falk replaced South African professor John Dugard, an expert on apartheid who left his post in June .
The Israeli government was furious at the appointment and threatened to block his entry. Nonetheless when Falk planned a visit in December 2008, visas were given to the two UN officials accompanying him and he assumed that his entry at Ben Gurion (in order to go to the Wet Bank and Gaza) would be tolerated. Not so.
As Falk wrote after his expulsion:
‘After being denied entry, I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems. At this point, I was treated not as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed.’ He was imprisoned in humiliating conditions ‘not by themselves worthy of notice, given the sorts of serious hardships that millions around the world daily endure. Their importance is largely symbolic. I am an individual who had done nothing wrong beyond express strong disapproval of policies of a sovereign state. More importantly, the obvious intention was to humble me as a UN representative and thereby send a message of defiance to the United Nations.’
See Falk’s account
In July 2007 Prof Richard Falk had written an article entitled Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust in which he said:
“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.”
Wise it may not have been, but the article is nuanced, giving an account of US and Israeli elations to the Palestinian conflict over time and concluding with these words:
“The entire population of Gaza is treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian society. To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.’”
What does Falk say today? A very interesting interview by Victor Kattan appears in the Electronic Intifada, 25 December 2008, under the title Championing global human rights: interview with Richard Falk.
And an equally interesting interview by Laila El-Haddad with his predecessor John Dugard appeared coincidentally in December on Al Jazeera under the title ‘Focus: Human Rights and the UN’.