Archive for Amnesty International

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is cracking

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/05/2011 by 3071km

Written by: Noura Erakat

Date published: 9th May 2011

Source: Al Jazeera English

_____

Sealing coastal territory undermines past diplomacy – and siege is likely to be broken by post-revolution Egypt.

Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt’s collusion with Israel’s blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as “disgraceful“. While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government’s prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for “extraordinary humanitarian cases”. In June 2007, after Hamas’ ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt’s closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza’s 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 per cent,  has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organisations – including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organisation.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel’s Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel’s fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah’s closure demonstrated Mubarak’s shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas’ leadership.

Egypt’s post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy – as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt’s decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt’s decision is a resumption of the status quo ante

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the US and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorised to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union’s Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Force 17, or the Presidential Guard.  Since Fatah’s ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has “maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage“.

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU’s willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt’s ambassador to Israel the mission’s readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade 

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend US aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel’s withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon – along with a coalition of donor nations – have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as “overdue“, demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the US described Israel’s blockade as “untenable” and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt’s post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak’s departure, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government – and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the US will challenge Egypt’s decision, which reflects the US’ blockade policy as well as the US-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government’s nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September’s “political tsunami”. Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains “there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country”.

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt’s new government, and Netanyahu’s tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilise significant political opposition to Egypt’s new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza’s shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel’s choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the US to act on its behalf. Whether the Obama administration is willing to do so (the US Congress has already demonstrated its willingness) remains unclear in light of a fast-transforming Middle East, where US interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Advertisements

Thirsty for justice

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, International community, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 25/03/2010 by 3071km

Written by Mona El-Farra

Published on Electronic Intifada

Date published: 25/03/2010

_____

Mona El-Farra writing from occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 25 March 2010

Palestinian children wait to fill up water in the Gaza Strip. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Toni Morrison once wrote “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I feel it is the same for Palestinian refugees, who have struggled for decades for their right to return home. I thought of this connection between water and refugees during a recent meeting about the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s (MECA) Maia Project with Aidan O’Leary, Deputy Director of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. We are working with UNRWA to install locally-made water purification and desalination units in their schools. Mr. O’Leary expressed his total appreciation for the Maia Project and stressed that providing clean drinking water to children is among the highest priorities and needs for Gaza schools. Mr. John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, also expressed his admiration for the Maia Project.

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under Israeli military occupation and siege. The refugees are often the hardest hit by rising unemployment and poverty. Access to clean water is one of the many basic needs that UNRWA is no longer able to meet. A recent UNRWA report states that the most common infectious diseases affecting Palestinian refugees in Gaza — who make up more than three-quarters of the population — are directly related to inadequate supplies of safe water and poor sanitation: diarrhea, acute bloody diarrhea and viral hepatitis.

Creating a positive impact on children’s health is the main goal of the Maia Project, and working on water access when you live in Gaza is self-explanatory. The reality is that tap water in Gaza is undrinkable due to its bad quality and contamination. At best, when you have access to a running tap, the water is not clean and is very salty. Our daily water consumption averages around 78 liters a day per person, while Israelis average over 300 liters each, more than four times as much. Israel is under increasing scrutiny by international organizations including Amnesty International for “denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

We move to help the children as quickly as we can. Children in Gaza will have the chance to drink clean and soft water, but only at the rate in which we can implement the Maia Project. And we race against time. The UN estimates that Gaza will have no drinking water in the next 15 years.

Water is life, but here in Gaza it can also bring death. Numerous military attacks on the Gaza Strip have devastated Gaza’s water infrastructure. Israel’s twenty-two day assault last winter destroyed or rendered unusable an estimated 800 of Gaza’s 2,000 wells, and caused $5.97 million in damage to our water and wastewater treatment facilities. Since January 2009, the Gaza Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have issued drinking, seafood and swimming advisories.

We yearn for our water and our freedoms to return to us. We roll up our sleeves and hope for rain, the kind of rain that floods the hearts and minds of those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Here in Gaza, we are still thirsty.

Mona El-Farra is a physician by training and a human rights and women’s rights activist in practice in the occupied Gaza Strip. Her blog is From Gaza, with Love.

Israel defends conduct during Gaza war

Posted in Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Operation Cast Lead, Pictures, Videos, War crimes with tags , , , , , , , on 01/08/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 31st July 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

_____

Israel has said it will investigate more than a hundred complaints of misconduct by its military during the Gaza war.

But Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, who was in Gaza during the war, said a new government report was merely trying to absolve Israel of responsibility for its actions and falls far short of what is needed.

Israel defends Gaza war

Israel repeated claims that its use of white phosphorus was legal [AFP]

The Israeli government has said that its war on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, that left up to 1,417 Palestinians dead, was “necessary and proportionate”.

The government also said on Thursday that it was investigating about 100 complaints of misconduct by its forces during the three week war that began on December 27.

“Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas’s almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks,” the report published by the foreign ministry said.

The 163-page document was published ahead of a UN war crimes investigation that is due to be published in August and in the wake of accusations from human rights groups that Israeli forces committed war crimes and violated international law during the war.

‘Deliberate use of force’

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said many see the report as a pre-emptive strike to defend the much criticised war.

She said that the report follows testimonies from witnesses and human rights organisations about soldiers’ conduct during the offensive.

“What we’ve seen in the past few months since the end of the war are various human rights reports from Amnesty International, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, as well as testimonies coming out from army soldiers themselves,” Tadros said.

“What really ties all of these reports together is the idea that there was no proportionality and a deliberate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza.”

Palestinian officials say 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed during the 22-day assault which ended in January.

Israel says that the number killed was considerably lower, and that only 295 of the dead were civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, while three Israeli civilians were killed in rocket attacks.

The report details steps that the Israeli military says were taken to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, while claiming that some such casualties were inevitable because Hamas fighters took up positions in crowded neighbourhoods.

It cited the 2.5 million leaflets dropped on the territory and 165,000 phone calls to civilians warning them to leave targeted areas as evidence of the military’s efforts.

The report said international law is violated only “when there is an intention to target civilians,” and Israel denied it had such an intention.

“Under international law, Israel had every right to use military force to defend its civilians,” the report said.

Independent inquiry urged

John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, welcomed the Israeli report as an “acknowledgment that an investigation has to be done into what happened” during the conflict.

Human rights groups have charged the Israeli army with violating international law during the war [AFP]

But he told Al Jazeera that the process has taken “far too long” and added that “what we actually need is an independent investigation that is credible for both sides”.”The litmus test is that [any investigation] has to be credible to both sides. As is well documented, both sides have certain concerns and they have to be addressed.

“We have to see the rule of international law applied and upheld, even-handedly, with the confidence of both populations.”

The report also defended Israel’s controversial use of the chemical agent white phosphorus in the conflict, saying its use was in accordance with Israeli law.

The Israeli army “used munitions containing white phosphorus” in Gaza, the government report said, but denied firing such weapons inside populated areas.

International law permits the use of white phosphorus – which can cause severe burns – as an “obscurant” to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons.


AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, Gaza war crimes investigation, Hamas, IDF, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Non-violent resistance, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy, War crimes with tags , , , , , , , , on 02/07/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 2nd July 2009

Source: Amnesty International

_____

Israeli forces killed hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza in attacks which breached the laws of war, Amnesty International concluded in a new report published on Thursday. Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 days of death and destruction, is the first comprehensive report to be published on the conflict, which took place earlier this year.

“Israel’s failure to properly investigate its forces’ conduct in Gaza, including war crimes, and its continuing refusal to cooperate with the UN international independent fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone, is evidence of its intention to avoid public scrutiny and accountability,” said Donatella Rovera, who headed a field research mission to Gaza and southern Israel during and after the conflict.

“The international community, led by the UN Security Council, must use all its leverage to ensure that Israel cooperates fully with the Goldstone inquiry, which now offers the best means to establish the truth.”

Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, killing three Israeli civilians, injuring scores and driving thousands from their homes. “Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable,” added Donatella Rovera.

The report, based on evidence gathered by Amnesty International delegates, including a military expert, during field research in January and February, documents Israel’s use of battlefield weapons against a civilian population trapped in Gaza, with no means of escape.

The scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Most were killed with high-precision weapons, relying on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing to see their targets in detail. Others were killed with imprecise weapons, including artillery shells carrying white phosphorus – not previously used in Gaza – which should never be used in densely populated areas.

Amnesty International found that the victims of the attacks it investigated were not caught in the crossfire during battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, nor were they shielding militants or other military objects. Many were killed when their homes were bombed while they slept. Others were sitting in their yard or hanging the laundry on the roof. Children were struck while playing in their bedrooms or on the roof, or near their homes. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while attempting to rescue the wounded or recover the dead.

“The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be dismissed simply as ‘collateral damage’, as argued by Israel,” said Donatella Rovera. “Many questions remain to be answered about these attacks and about the fact that the strikes continued unabated despite the rising civilian death toll.”

More than 3,000 homes were destroyed and some 20,000 damaged in Israeli attacks which reduced entire neighbourhoods of Gaza to rubble and left an already dire economic situation in ruins. Much of the destruction was wanton and could not be justified on grounds of “military necessity”.

The Israeli army has not responded to Amnesty International’s repeated requests over the past five months for information on specific cases detailed in the report and for meetings to discuss the organization’s findings.

“For its part, Hamas has continued to justify the rocket attacks launched daily by its fighters and by other Palestinian armed groups into towns and villages in southern Israel during the 22-day conflict. Though less lethal, these attacks, using unguided rockets which cannot be directed at specific targets, violated  international humanitarian law and cannot be justified under any circumstance,” said Donatella Rovera.

In addition to locally made Qassam rockets, Palestinian militants often fired longer-range Grad-type rockets smuggled into Gaza via the tunnels on the Egyptian border, which reached deeper into Israel and placed many more Israeli civilians at risk.

“Five months on, neither side has shown any inclination to change its practices and abide by international humanitarian law, raising the prospect that civilians will again bear the brunt if fighting resumes,” said Donatella Rovera.

Under international law, states have a responsibility to exercise universal jurisdiction and start criminal investigations in national courts, wherever there is sufficient evidence of war crimes or other crimes under international law, to arrest and bring to justice alleged perpetrators.

“Those responsible for war crimes and other serious violations must not be allowed to escape accountability and justice,” said Donatella Rovera.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on states to suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used to commit serious violations of international law.

It calls on Israel to commit not to carry out direct, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks on civilians; or use artillery, mortars and white phosphorus weapons in densely populated areas; and to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is collectively punishing the entire population.

The report urges Hamas to renounce its policy of unlawful rocket attacks against civilian population centres in Israel and to prevent other armed groups from carrying out such attacks.