Category Archives: International Law

Israel Wreaks Terror on Another Harmless Mercy Ship

How revealing! How ironic!

It is Jeremy Corbyn’s misfortune to be surrounded by witless blabbermouths whose unbridled remarks are a gift to Israel lobby propagandists. And while mainstream media in the UK were, as usual, whipping up an anti-Semitism ruckus orchestrated against the Labour Party leader, Israel was busy committing yet another outrage on the high seas against a humanitarian aid vessel peacefully carrying urgently-needed medical supplies for the desperate citizens of blockaded Gaza.

SOSjustfuture4Palestine issued a statement saying:

The Israeli Occupation Forces violently attacked our Norwegian flagged boat Al Awda (‘The Return’) as she was in international waters…. Armed, masked soldiers boarded Al Awda without permission. They assaulted several unarmed participants by hitting them and using tasers.

Reuters (Oslo) reported that the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry demanded the Israeli authorities clarify the circumstances around the seizure of the vessel and the legal basis for the intervention. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Zaher Birawi, has said he’s holding Israel fully responsible for the safety of the activists, and stressed that Israel will be prosecuted for the “crime of kidnapping” the Freedom Flotilla ship and its activists, who did not impose a threat to Israel’s security.

British media and Government are deaf, blind and dumb to the enormity of the situation despite the fact that aboard the Al Awda were unarmed activists from 16 nations including 69 year-old British surgeon Dr Swee Ang who has helped medical teams in Gaza on many occasions. And it’s the duty of governments to protect their citizens wherever they may be, especially when they are attacked in international waters.

Early reports said there was blood on the decks and Dr Swee was hit and tasered by Israel’s military thugs. She is now back in the UK after 2 days in Girvon prison but many others are still locked up. Dr Swee has just sent this message:

I was deported from Israeli prison this morning and arrived back at London.

The Israeli Army have stolen my two mobile phones, my camera and most of my clothes and belonging so it is not possible to communicate by phone until I get a new one. But email is still working and I have just arrived home. I have made an audio of the events of 29 July onwards and how our unarmed boat with US$ 15,000 of gauze, wound dressings and antibiotics was abducted from International Waters while on our way to Gaza and taken by force to Ashdod in Israel by the Israeli Army where all 22 participants were subjected to multiple strip searches and then put in Givon prison. There are still participants in prison as I send this to you.

Meanwhile the British Government doesn’t seem in the least bothered by Israel’s breach of  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Of course, both Israel and the UK have ‘form’ and we’ve been here many times before. Nine years ago (July 2009) I found myself writing this:

Britain’s foreign secretary David Miliband – or rather, someone on his behalf – has written to me about the government’s response to Israel’s hijacking of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity on the high seas and the outrageous treatment of six peace-loving British citizens (including the skipper), en route to Gaza not Israel, who had their gear stolen or damaged and were thrown into Israeli jails. The letter contains the usual meaningless expressions like ‘deplore’ and ‘press’ and ‘raise the issue’, which are the familiar hallmark of Foreign Office mentality.

Miliband’s spokesman says: “The Israeli Navy took control of the Spirit of Humanity on 30 June, diverting it to Ashdod port in Israel. All those on board, including six British nationals, were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well. The Israeli authorities deported the detainees on 6 July.”

Treated well? That’s not what the peaceful seafarers say. They were assaulted, put in fear of their lives and deprived of their liberty for fully a week – a long time in a stinking Israeli jail.

Miliband’s spokesman: “The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was ‘vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea. It is also important to say that we deplore the interference by the Israeli navy in the activities of Gazan fishermen.”

Such fine words. Where is the action to back them up?

Miliband’s spokesman: “When the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on 1 July he raised the issue with him and asked for clarification about whether or not the Spirit of Humanity had been intercepted in international waters. We will continue to press the Israeli authorities for clarification.”

It’s well over a week and Lieberman hasn’t clarified anything. Was the Israeli ambassador in London summoned and given a dressing down? Has London demanded compensation for the Britishers’ losses and damage? Has the boat and its cargo been returned? Have arrangements been made for the aid to be delivered? Our Zionist-leaning government apparently takes pleasure in Britain’s repeated humiliation. Not long ago the British consul-general in Tel Aviv (a woman) was strip-searched by Israeli security perverts.

Miliband’s spokesman: “We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel’s control of Gazan waters and the effect this has on Gaza’s fishing industry.”

Ever get the feeling they’ve switched off their collective hearing aid? What is the point of obligations if they never have to be met?

Miliband’s spokesman: “As I said on the phone, our Travel Advice makes clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters; that it is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time…. The UK has been unequivocal in its calls for Israel to lessen restrictions at the Gaza crossings, allowing the legitimate flow of humanitarian aid, trade and reconstruction goods and the movement of people. This is essential not only for the people of Gaza, but also for the wider stability of the region.”

“Unequivocal”? “Essential”? More splendid but empty words. The needs of the crushed and devastated and half-starved people of Gaza have been urgent for 3 years, ever since Britain ganged up with the Zionist axis to bring Gaza to its knees.

Miliband’s spokesman: “Recent events in Gaza are a tragic reminder of the importance of progress on the peace process.”

No kidding……. They are also a tragic reminder of the West’s perverse failure in its duty to enforce compliance with international law, human rights and UN resolutions.

Miliband’s spokesman: “The UK, with the support of our international allies, will continue to pursue vigorously a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution, involving a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.”

But never vigorously enough. The world is still waiting….

That was 9 years ago. Why does London perpetuate the blockade of Gaza by colluding in Israel’s unlawful conduct? Where are the consequences and penalties for breaching international law and all codes of human decency?

Part of the problem is the Interim Agreement signed in 1995 that allowed the Israelis to weave a tangled web of security zoning in Gaza’s coastal waters leaving Israel in charge and dictating what happens off-shore and who comes and goes. It’s the sort of agreement no Palestinian would have signed unless under extreme duress.

Being ‘interim’ these restrictions were not expected to last beyond 1999. But they were still in force in 2009 and they are still in force in 2018. Why?

Gaza blockade illegal, illegal, illegal

Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law…  the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade.

That was the conclusion of the UN’s Palmer inquiry under its then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

It is completely at odds with what other experts have said. The UN itself had already accepted that Israel’s blockade is illegal. One of its own fact-finding missions declared that it constituted collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus was illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The action by Israel’s military in intercepting the aid ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in 2010, an assault in which 10 crew and activists were killed, was “clearly unlawful” and couldn’t be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defence].

No case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights also concluded that the Israeli blockade is illegal.

Due both to the legal nature of Israel’s relationship to Gaza – that of occupier – and the impact of the blockade on the civilian population, amounting to ‘collective punishment’, the blockade cannot be reconciled with the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law… The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel… Israel could have diplomatically engaged Turkey, arranged for a third party to verify there were no weapons onboard and then peacefully guided the vessel to Gaza.

Craig Murray also knows a thing or two about such matters, having headed the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to enforce the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments. He commented:

Right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas… Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

But, he explains, San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict.

Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict… San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.

Furthermore, Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) emphasizes “the need to ensure sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossings” and calls for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment”. Israel has imposed a land blockade for decades and still has a hand in keeping Gaza’s land crossing with Egypt closed. The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is also ignored. So the only sensible channel for “unimpeded provision and distribution” is by sea.

The Palmer inquiry was about as warped as it could get. The Terms of Reference said it was “required to obtain its information from the two nations primarily involved in its inquiry, Turkey and Israel, and other affected States…. The information for the Panel’s work came primarily through its interactions with the Points of Contact designated by Israel and Turkey.”

The 4-man panel included a representative each from the governments of Turkey and Israel, and was headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Chair) and Alvaro Uribe, 58th president of Colombia. Palmer was the 33rd prime minister of New Zealand if that’s any consolation. Note the absence of anyone to represent the views of the party targeted by the blockade. Ban Ki-Moon didn’t think it necessary to invite someone from (horror of horrors) the government of Gaza.

Consequently the inquiry’s findings included this gem:

It would be illegal if its imposition [i.e. the blockade] was intended to starve or to collectively punish the civilian population. However, there is no material before the Panel that would permit a finding confirming the allegations that Israel had either of those intentions or that the naval blockade was imposed in retaliation for the take-over of Hamas in Gaza or otherwise. On the contrary, it is evident that Israel had a military objective. The stated primary objective of the naval blockade was for security. It was to prevent weapons, ammunition, military supplies and people from entering Gaza and to stop Hamas operatives sailing away from Gaza with vessels filled with explosives… The earliest maritime interception operations to prevent weapons smuggling to Gaza predated the 2007 take-over of Hamas in Gaza. The actual naval blockade was imposed more than one year after that event. These factors alone indicate it was not imposed to punish its citizens for the election of Hamas.

Palmer’s report oozes bias and makes sickening reading. For example, it refers to “the takeover of Gaza” by Hamas when Hamas, as everyone else knows, was democratically elected in 2006. And Israeli gunboats were already shelling Gaza and shooting up Gazan fishing boats when I was there in 2007.

Then this warning from Palmer…

Once a blockade has been lawfully established, it needs to be understood that the blockading power can attack any vessel breaching the blockade if after prior warning the vessel intentionally and clearly refuses to stop or intentionally and clearly resists visit, search or capture. There is no right within those rules to breach a lawful blockade as a right of protest. Breaching a blockade is therefore a serious step involving the risk of death or injury.

Given that risk, it is in the interests of the international community to actively discourage attempts to breach a lawfully imposed blockade.

So a green light to the rogue state to violently assault any humanitarian vessel approaching Gaza’s waters. What does this whitewash mean for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood? Must the newly fledged state begin its young life with a land and sea blockade in place because Palmer and Uribe say it’s all legal and above-board and Israel’s security comes first? Let us not forget that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are under blockade too.

As for Israel’s constant claim that the primary purpose of the blockade is security, a Wikileaks cable from 2008 reads:

As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [U.S. embassy economic officers] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” Israel wanted it “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis”.

And according to documents released under a Freedom of Information petition by Gisha, an Israeli law centre, Israel operated “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods in the Gaza Strip. Gisha’s director accused Israel of “paralyzing normal life in Gaza”. The documents confirmed that the siege was not for security reasons but aimed at keeping Gazans at near-starvation level. Since around half the population are growing children this act of collective punishment has meant that hundreds of thousands are undernourished.

And the civilised world stands idly by.

Iran brings an action against the United States before the International Court of Justice

On 16 July 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran filed an action against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice. This court is the internal judicial organ of the UN and is tasked with settling disputes between UN member states. Teheran considers that the sanctions that Washington has taken against it after withdrawing from the 5+1 agreement (JCPoA) violate articles IV 1), VII 1), VIII 1), VIII 2), IX 2) and X 1) of the Bilateral Treaty on Friendship, Economic (...)

Israel is bulldozing Khan Al Ahmar and with it the Two-state Solution

Israel finally built an access road to the West Bank village of Khan Al Ahmar last week, after half a century of delays. But the only vehicles allowed along it are the bulldozers scheduled to sweep away its 200 inhabitants’ homes.

If one community has come to symbolise the demise of the two-state solution, it is Khan Al Ahmar.

It was for that reason that a posse of European diplomats left their air-conditioned offices late last week to trudge through the hot, dusty hills outside Jerusalem and witness for themselves the preparations for the village’s destruction. That included the Israeli police viciously beating residents and supporters as they tried to block the advance of heavy machinery.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have submitted a formal protest. Their denunciations echoed those of more than 70 Democratic lawmakers in Washington in May – a rare example of US politicians showing solidarity with Palestinians.

It would be gratifying to believe that Western governments care about the inhabitants of Khan Al Ahmar – or the thousands of other Palestinians who are being incrementally cleansed by Israel from nearby lands but whose plight has drawn far less attention.

After all, the razing of Khan Al Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population are war crimes.

But in truth Western politicians are more concerned about propping up the illusion of a peace process that expired many years ago than the long-running abuse of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Western capitals understand what is at stake. Israel wants Khan Al Ahmar gone so that Jewish settlements can be built in its place, on land it has designated as “E1”.

That would put the final piece in place for Israel to build a substantial bloc of new settler homes to sever the West Bank in two. Those same settlements would also seal off West Bank Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a future Palestinian state, making a mockery of any peace agreement.

The erasure of Khan Al Ahmar has not arrived out of nowhere. Israel has trampled on international law for decades, conducting a form of creeping annexation that has provoked little more than uncomfortable shifting in chairs from Western politicians.

Khan Al Ahmar’s Bedouin inhabitants, from the Jahalin tribe, have been ethnically cleansed twice before by Israel, but these war crimes went unnoticed.

The first time was in the 1950s, a few years after Israel’s creation, when 80 per cent of Palestinians had been driven from their homes to clear the path for the creation of a Jewish state.

Although they should have enjoyed the protection of Israeli citizenship, the Jahalin were forced out of the Negev and into the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan, to make way for new Jewish immigrants.

A generation later in 1967, when they had barely re-established themselves, the Jahalin were again under attack from Israeli soldiers occupying the West Bank. The grazing lands the Jahalin had relocated to with their goats and sheep were seized to build a settlement for Jews only, Kfar Adumim, in violation of the laws of war.

Ever since, the Jahalin have dwelt in a twilight zone of Israeli-defined “illegality”. Like other Palestinians in the 60 per cent of the West Bank declared under Israeli control by the Oslo peace process, they have been denied building permits, forcing three generations to live in tin shacks and tents.

Israel has also refused to connect the village to the water, electricity and sewage grids, in an attempt to make life so unbearable the Jahalin would opt to leave.

When an Italian charity helped in 2009 to establish Khan Al Ahmar’s first school – made from mud and tyres – Israel stepped up its legal battle to demolish the village.

Now, the Jahalin are about to be driven from their lands again. This time they are to be forcibly re-settled next to a waste dump by the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, hemmed in on all sides by Israeli walls and settlements.

In the new location they will be forced to abandon their pastoral way of life. As resident Ibrahim Abu Dawoud observed: “For us, leaving the desert is death.”

In another indication of the Palestinians’ dire predicament, the Trump administration is expected to propose in its long-awaited peace plan that the slum-like Abu Dis, rather than East Jerusalem, serve as the capital of a future pseudo-Palestinian state – if Israel ever chooses to recognise one.

Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction would be the first demolition of a complete Palestinian community since the 1990s, when Israel ostensibly committed to the Oslo process.

Now emboldened by Washington’s unstinting support, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is racing ahead to realise its vision of a Greater Israel. It wants to annex the lands on which villages like Khan Al Ahmar stand and remove their Palestinian populations.

There is a minor hurdle. Last Thursday, the Israeli supreme court tried to calm the storm clouds gathering in Europe by issuing a temporary injunction on the demolition works.

The reprieve is likely to be short-lived. A few weeks ago the same court – in a panel dominated by judges identified with the settler movement – backed Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction.

The Supreme Court has also been moving towards accepting the Israeli government’s argument that decades of land grabs by settlers should be retroactively sanctioned – even though they violate Israeli and international law – if carried out in “good faith”.

Whatever the judges believe, there is nothing “good faith” about the behaviour of either the settlers or Israel’s government towards communities like Khan Al Ahmar.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ veteran peace negotiator, recently warned that Israel and the US were close to “liquidating” the project of Palestinian statehood.

Sounding more desperate than usual, the Europe Union reaffirmed this month its commitment to a two-state solution, while urging that the “obstacles” to its realisation be more clearly identifed.

The elephant in the room is Israel itself – and its enduring bad faith. As Khan Al Ahmar demonstrates all too clearly, there will be no end to the slow-motion erasure of Palestinian communities until western governments find the nerve to impose biting sanctions on Israel.

• First published in The National

Did Israel Inspire Trump’s Family Separation Policy?

This past May, the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced the government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy at US border crossings. It was a matter of weeks before the new policy began yielding tragic outcomes. Those attempting to unlawfully cross into the US were subject to federal criminal prosecution, while their children were taken away by federal authorities, which placed them in cage-like facilities.

Expectedly, the policy caused outrage and was eventually reversed. However, many of those who have chastised the administration of President Donald Trump seem willfully ignorant of the fact that Israel has been carrying out far worse practices against Palestinians.

In fact, many within the American ruling classes, whether Republicans or Democrats, have been captivated with the Israeli model for decades. For years, US pundits have praised, not just Israel’s supposed democracy, but also its security apparatus as an example to be emulated. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, a renewed US love affair with Israel’s security tactics blossomed, where Tel Aviv raked billions of American taxpayers’ dollars in the name of helping secure US borders against perceived threats.

A new, even more appalling chapter in the ongoing cooperation was penned soon after newly-elected Trump declared his plan to build a ‘great’ wall at the US-Mexico border. Even before Israeli companies jumped on the chance to build Trump’s wall, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted approvingly of Trump’s “great idea”, claiming that Israel’s own wall has been a “great success” for it “has stopped all illegal immigration.”

‘Birds of a feather flock together,’ is an English proverb. Netanyahu and Trump have flocked together for over a year and a half in perfect harmony. Alas, their personal affinity, opportunistic style of politics and, more alarmingly, ideological meeting points have made matters worse.

In the case of Israel, the word ‘democracy’ is hardly fitting. At best, Israel’s democracy can be described as unique. The Jewish State’s former Supreme Court President, Aharon Barak, was quoted as saying that “Israel is different from other countries. It is not only a democratic state, but also a Jewish state.”

At a Tel Aviv conference earlier this year, Israel’s divisive Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, offered her own version of Barak’s assertion. “Israel is a Jewish state,” she said. “It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.”

In order for Israel to preserve its version of ‘democracy’, it must, in the words of Shaked, “maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”

Israel spins the concept of democracy in whichever direction that would allow it to ensure the dominance of the Jewish majority at the expense of Palestinians, the native inhabitants of the land, whose rising numbers are often seen as a ‘demographic threat’, a ‘bomb’ even.

Israel, to this day, has no formal constitution. It is governed by what it is known as ‘Basic Law‘. Having no moral code or legal foundation according to which the state’s behavior can be judged, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) is, therefore, free to draft and impose laws targeting Palestinian rights without having to wrangle with such notions as these laws being ‘constitutionally’ challenged.

One of the reasons that Trump’s family separation law at the border failed is that, despite flaws in its democratic system, the US has a constitution and a relatively strong civil society that can utilize the country’s moral and legal codes to challenge atrocious state conduct.

In Israel, however, this is not the case. The government invests much energy and funds to ensure Jewish dominance and to establish physical links between illegal Jewish settlements (built on Palestinian land in defiance of international law) and Israel itself. At the same time, it invests equal resources to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their own land, while keeping their communities everywhere separated and fragmented.

The sad truth is that what Americans have witnessed at their southern border in the last couple of months is what Palestinians have experienced as a daily reality at the hands of Israel for the last 70 years.

The kind of separation and segregation that Palestinian communities endure goes even beyond the typical outcomes of war, siege and military occupation. It is something that is enshrined in Israeli law, crafted mainly to weaken, even break down the cohesiveness of Palestinian society.

For example, in 2003, the Knesset voted in favor of the ‘Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law’, which placed severe restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel who were applying for family unification. When rights groups challenged the law, their efforts failed as the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, early 2012, in favor of the government.

In 2007, that same law was amended to include spouses from ‘enemy states’ – namely Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Unsurprisingly, citizens of some of those ‘enemy states’ were included in Trump’s ban on citizens of mostly Muslim countries from entering the US.

It is as if Trump is following an Israeli blueprint, fashioning his decisions around the principles that guided Israeli policies towards the Palestinians for many years.

Even the idea of caging children is an Israeli one, a practice that was exposed by the rights group, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI).

The policy, which has allegedly been discontinued, allowed for the placing of Palestinian detainees, including children in outdoor cages, even during severe winter storms.

The ‘caging’ of Palestinians, however, is an old practice. Today, the Israeli Apartheid wall separates Palestinians from their land and segregates between Arabs and Jews on racial grounds. As for Gaza, the entire Strip, which hosts 2 million people, mostly refugees, has been turned into a massive ‘open air prison‘, of walls and trenches.

While many Americans are relieved by Trump’s decision to end the practice of family separation at the border, US politicians and media are oblivious to the fate of Palestinians who have endured horrific forms of separation for many years. Even more troubling is the fact that many among Republicans and Democrats see Israel, not as a liability to real democracy, but as a shining example to be followed.

Leaving the UN Human Rights Council

The margin between what is a human right as an inalienable possession, and how it is seen in political terms is razor fine. In some cases, the distinctions are near impossible to make.  To understand the crime of genocide is to also understand the political machinations that limited its purview.  No political or cultural groups, for instance, were permitted coverage by the definition in the UN Convention responsible for criminalising it.

The same goes for the policing bodies who might use human rights in calculating fashion, less to advance an agenda of the human kind than that of the political. This can take the form of scolding, and the United States, by way of illustration, has received beratings over the years in various fields.  (Think an onerous, vicious prison system, the stubborn continuation of the death penalty, and levels of striking impoverishment for an advanced industrial society.)

The other tactic common in the human rights game is gaining membership to organisations vested with the task of overseeing the protection of such rights.  Membership can effectively defang and in some cases denude criticism of certain states.  Allies club together to keep a united front.  It was precisely this point that beset the UN Commission on Human Rights, long accused of being compromised for perceived politicisation.

The successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, has come in for a similar pasting.  The righteous Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, had made it something of a personal project to reform the body. It was a body that had been opposed by the United States.  But reform and tinkering are oft confused, suggesting a neutralisation of various political platforms deemed against Washington’s interests.  Is it the issue of rights at stake, or simple pride and backing allies?

For one, the barb in Haley’s protestation was the HRC’s “chronic bias against Israel”, and concerns on the part of Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a UN human rights chief unimpressed by the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

Accordingly, Haley announced that the United States would be withdrawing from “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”, peopled, as it were, by representatives from such states as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  “We take this step,” explained Haley, “because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”

The Congolese component deserved special mention, the state having become a member of the HRC even as mass graves were being uncovered at the behest of that very body.  Government security forces, according to Human Rights Watch, were said to be behind abuses in the southern Kasai region since August 2016 that had left some 5,000 people dead, including 90 mass graves.  A campaign against the DRC’s election to the Council, waged within various political corridors by Congolese activists, failed to inspire UN members to sufficiently change their mind in the vote. A sufficient majority was attained.

The move to withdraw the US received purring praise from Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, still glowing with satisfaction at Washington’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem.  For the Israeli leader, the Council had been nothing but “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organisation that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.”  It had avoided dealing with the big violators and abusers-in-chief, those responsible for systematically violating human rights, and had developed, according to Netanyahu, an Israel fixation, ignoring its fine pedigree as being “the one genuine democracy in the Middle East”.  The slant here is clear enough: democracies so deemed do not violate human rights, and, when picked up for doing so, can ignore the overly zealous critics compromised by supposed hypocrisy.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, did not restrain himself in praise.  The United States had “proven, yet again, its commitment to truth and justice and its unwillingness to allow the blind hatred of Israel in international institutions to stand unchallenged.”

The common mistake made by such states is that hypocrisy necessarily invalidates criticism of human rights abuses. To have representatives from a country purportedly shoddy on the human rights front need not negate the reasoning in assessing abuses and infractions against human rights.  It certainly makes that body’s credibility much harder to float, the perpetrator being within the gates, but human rights remains the hostage of political circumstance and, worst of all, opportunistic forays.  The US withdrawal from the Council does little to suggest credible reform, though it does much to advance a program of spite typical from an administration never keen on the idea of human rights to begin with.  The Trump policy of detachment, extraction and unilateralism continues.

Beating the US “Veto”: Palestinians Need Urgent Protection from Israel

What is taking place in Palestine is not a ‘conflict’.  We readily utilize the term but, in fact, the word ‘conflict’ is misleading. It equates between oppressed Palestinians and Israel, a military power that stands in violation of numerous United Nations Resolutions.

It is these ambiguous terminologies that allow the likes of United States UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, to champion Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’, as if the militarily occupied and colonized Palestinians are the ones threatening the security of their occupier and tormentor.

In fact, this is precisely what Haley has done to counter a draft UN Security Council Resolution presented by Kuwait to provide a minimum degree of protection for Palestinians. Haley vetoed the draft, thus continuing a grim legacy of US defense of Israel, despite the latter’s ongoing violence against Palestinians.

It is no surprise that out of the 80 vetoes exercised by the US at the UNSC, the majority were unleashed to protect Israel. The first such veto for Israel’s sake was in September 1972 and the latest, used by Haley, was on June 1.

Before it was put to the vote, the Kuwaiti draft was revised three times in order to ‘water it down’. Initially, it called for the protection of the Palestinian people from Israeli violence.

The final draft merely called for “The consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in the Gaza Strip.”

Still, Haley found the language “grossly one-sided.”

The near consensus in support of the Kuwait draft was met with complete rejection of Haley’s own draft resolution which demanded Palestinian groups cease “all violent provocative actions” in Gaza.

The ‘provocative actions’ being referred to in Haley’s draft is the mass mobilization by tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, who have been peacefully protesting for weeks, hoping that their protests will place the Israeli siege on Gaza back on the UN agenda.

Haley’s counter draft resolution did not garner a single vote in favor, save that of Haley’s own.  But such humiliation at the international stage is hardly of essence to the US, which has wagered its international reputation and foreign policy to protect Israel at any cost, even from unarmed observers whose job is merely to report on what they see on the ground.

The last such ‘force’ was that of 60 – later increased to 90 – members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).

TIPH was established in May 1996 and has filed many reports on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian city, especially in Area H-2, a small part of the city that is controlled by the Israeli army to protect some of the most violent illegal Jewish settlers.

Jan Kristensen, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Norwegian army who headed TIPH had these words to say, following the completion of his one-year mission in Hebron in 2004:

The activity of the settlers and the army in the H-2 area of Hebron is creating an irreversible situation. In a sense, cleansing is being carried out. In other words, if the situation continues for another few years, the result will be that no Palestinians will remain there.

One can only imagine what has befallen Hebron since then. The army and Jewish settlers have become so emboldened to the extent that they execute Palestinians in cold blood with little or no consequence.

One such episode became particularly famous, for it was caught on camera. On March 24, 2015, an Israeli soldier carried out a routine operation by shooting in the head an incapacitated Palestinian.

The execution of Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was filmed by Imad Abushamsiya. The viral video caused Israel massive embarrassment, forcing it to hold a sham trial in which the Israeli soldier who killed al-Sharif received a light sentence; he was later released to a reception fit for heroes.

Abushamsiya, who filmed the murder, however, was harassed by both the Israeli army and police and received numerous death threats.

The Israeli practice of punishing the messenger is not new. The mother of Ahed Tamimi, Nariman, who filmed her teenage daughter confronting armed Israeli soldiers was also detained and sentenced.

Israel has practically punished Palestinians for recording their own subjugation by Israeli troops while, at the same time, empowering these very soldiers to do as they please; it is now in the process of turning this everyday reality into actual law.

A bill at the Israeli Knesset was put forward late May that prohibits “photographing and documenting (Israeli occupation) soldiers”, and criminalizing “anyone who filmed, photographed and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duty.”

The bill, which is supported by Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, demands a five-year imprisonment term for violators.

The bill practically means that any form of monitoring of Israeli soldiers is a criminal act. If this is not a call for perpetual war crimes, what is?

Just to be sure, a second bill is proposing to give immunity to soldiers suspected of criminal activities during military operations.

The bill is promoted by deputy Defense Minister, Eli Ben Dahan, and is garnering support at the Knesset.

“The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant,” wrote Orly Noy in the Israeli 972 Magazine.

Noy cited a recent report by the Israeli human rights organization ‘Yesh Din’ which shows that “soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories enjoy near-full immunity.”

Now, Palestinians are more vulnerable than ever before, and Israel, with the help of its American enablers, is more brazen than ever.

This tragedy cannot continue. The international community and civil society organizations, – independent of the US government and its shameful vetoes – must undertake the legal and moral responsibility to monitor Israeli action and to provide meaningful protection for Palestinians.

Israel should not have free reign to abuse Palestinians at will, and the international community should not stand by and watch the bloody spectacle as it continues to unfold.

The Colonization of Palestine: Rethinking the Term ‘Israeli Occupation’

June 5, 2018 marks the 51st anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

But, unlike the massive popular mobilization that preceded the anniversary of the Nakba – the catastrophic destruction of Palestine in 1948 –  on May 15, the anniversary of the Occupation is hardly generating equal mobilization.

The unsurprising death of the ‘peace process’ and the inevitable demise of the ‘two-state solution’ has shifted the focus from ending the Occupation, per se, to the larger and more encompassing problem of Israel’s colonialism throughout Palestine.

The grass-root mobilization in Gaza and the West Bank, and among Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Naqab Desert are, once more, widening the Palestinian people’s sense of national aspirations. Thanks to the limited vision of the Palestinian leadership, those aspirations have, for decades, been confined to Gaza and West Bank.

In some sense, the ‘Israeli Occupation’ is no longer an occupation as per international standards and definitions. It is merely a phase of Zionist colonization of historic Palestine, a process that began over a 100 years ago, and carries on to this date.

“The law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian consideration; it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application,” states the International Committee of the Red Cross website.

It is for practical purposes that we often utilize the term ‘occupation’ with reference to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, occupied after June 5, 1967. The term allows for the constant emphasis on humanitarian rules that are meant to govern Israel’s behavior as the Occupying Power.

However, Israel has already, and repeatedly, violated most conditions of what constitute an ‘Occupation’ from an international law perspective, as articulated in the 1907 Hague Regulations (articles 42-56) and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

According to these definitions, an ‘Occupation’ is a provisional phase, a temporary situation that is meant to end with the implementation of international law regarding that particular situation.

Military occupation’ is not the sovereignty of the Occupier over the Occupied; it cannot include transfer of citizens from the territories of the Occupying Power to Occupied land; it cannot include ethnic cleansing; destruction of properties; collective punishment and annexation.

It is often argued that Israel is an Occupier that has violated the rules of Occupation as stated in international law.

This would have been the case a year, two or five years after the original Occupation had taken place, but not 51 years later. Since then, the Occupation has turned into long-term colonization.

An obvious proof is Israel’s annexation of Occupied land, including the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian East Jerusalem in 1981. That decision had no regard for international law, humanitarian or any other.

Israeli politicians have, for years, openly debated the annexation of the West Bank, especially areas that are populated with illegal Jewish settlements, which are built contrary to international law.

Those hundreds of settlements that Israel has been building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not meant as temporary structures.

Dividing the West Bank into three zones, areas A, B and C, each governed according to different political diktats and military roles, has little precedent in international law.

Israel argues that, contrary to international law, it is no longer an Occupying Power in Gaza; however, an Israel land, maritime and aerial siege has been imposed on the Strip for over 11 years. With successive Israeli wars that have killed thousands, to a hermetic blockade that has pushed the Palestinian population to the brink of starvation, Gaza subsists in isolation.

Gaza is an ‘Occupied Territory’ by name only, without any of the humanitarian rules applied. In the last 10 weeks alone, over 120 unarmed protesters, journalists and medics were killed and13,000 wounded, yet the international community and law remain inept, unable to face or challenge Israeli leaders or to overpower equally cold-hearted American vetoes.

The Palestinian Occupied Territories have, long ago, crossed the line from being Occupied to being colonized. But there are reasons that we are trapped in old definitions, leading amongst them is American political hegemony over the legal and political discourses pertaining to Palestine.

One of the main political and legal achievements of the Israeli war – which was carried out with full US support – on several Arab countries in June 1967 is the redefining of the legal and political language on Palestine.

Prior to that war, the discussion was mostly dominated by such urgent issues as the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees to go back to their homes and properties in historic Palestine.

The June war shifted the balances of power completely, and cemented America’s role as Israel’s main backer on the international stage.

Several UN Security Council resolutions were passed to delegitimize the Israeli Occupation: UNSCR 242, UNSCR 338 and the less talked about but equally significant UNSCR 497.

242 of 1967 demanded “withdrawal of Israel armed forces” from the territories it occupied in the June war. 338, which followed the war of 1973, accentuated and clarified that demand. Resolution 497 of 1981 was a response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It rendered such a move “null and void and without international and legal affect.”

The same applied to the annexation of Jerusalem as to any colonial constructions or any Israeli attempts aimed at changing the legal status of the West Bank.

But Israel is operating with an entirely different mindset.

Considering that anywhere between 600,000 to 750,000 Israeli Jews now live in the ‘Occupied Territories’, and that the largest settlement of Modi’in Illit houses more than 64,000 Israeli Jews, one has to wonder what form of military occupation blue-print Israel is implementing, anyway.

Israel is a settler colonial project, which began when the Zionist movement aspired to build an exclusive homeland for Jews in Palestine, at the expense of the native inhabitants of that land in the late 19th century.

Nothing has changed since. Only facades, legal definitions and political discourses. The truth is that Palestinians continue to suffer the consequences of Zionist colonialism and they will continue to carry that burden until that original sin is boldly confronted and justly remedied.

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Draft Dodger in Chief Dodges “Historic” Opening of US Embassy, Jerusalem

It was NBC’s Cal Parry who summed up the obscenity of Donald Trump’s ignorant and igniting decision to move the US Embassy to West Jerusalem, then to celebrate the inauguration on Monday, 14th May: “Well dressed American and Israeli officials on one side of the screen: desperation, death and fires on the other.”

In 1948, 700,000 Palestinians began their flight from the city and the region trying to escape the massacres by Jewish militias on that date, seventy years ago. Commemorated ever since as the day of “Nakba” — disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm — following them to this day as land is stolen, families expelled and “settlements” encroach, and Palestinian history is bulldozed.

‘ “When the massacre started the (paramilitaries) took a kid and strapped him on an army jeep and drove him around different neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, saying ‘the same will happen to you if you don’t leave,’ ” Abu Kaya said, retelling his grandfather’s story to Middle East Eye.’

…  not a single country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem because such a move is widely considered to violate international law.

Further:

Under United Nations Resolution 181, which in 1947 set out the conditions for the partition of Palestine into an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State”, Jerusalem was to be administered by the UN under a “special international regime.

The 1949 armistice agreement that formally ended the first Arab-Israeli war divided the city along the “Green Line” into Israeli-controlled western areas, and Jordanian-held East Jerusalem, which included the Old City.

Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is widely recognised as illegal and violates further United Nations resolutions.

For Palestinians then, sovereignty over the city is not something for leaders of other countries to determine, as US President Donald Trump did when he announced the embassy move in December.

In the few minutes it took to jot down notes for this piece, the Palestinian death toll of those demonstrating rose from twenty-eight dead, shot by Israeli soldiers, to forty-three. The injured rose from 1,693 to “near two thousand.”

Fadi Abo Salah, 30, who lost both legs in a bombing by Israeli aircraft, was one who lost his life, in his wheel chair — targeted by an Israeli sniper — in front of his wife and three small children. (Palestine Live group.)

Israel, frequently declaring itself “the only democracy in the Middle East”, carried out a very democratic slaughter and target practice. Young, old, disabled, male, female, all were equally entitled to be shot, sniped at, tear gassed.

Tiny Laila al-Ghandour who died from tear gas inhalation was just eight months old.1

Journalist Sharif Kouddos recorded:

Wails of grief inside family home of Laila al-Ghandour, 8-month old who died of gas inhalation yesterday. Her aunt says the gas came from everywhere, including drones.

By Monday’s end he Tweeted:

Sharif Kouddous

@sharifkouddous

Casualty toll from today in Gaza now stands at 55 dead, including 6 minors. 2,770 wounded, including 225 children. Of the wounded over 1,350 were hit with live ammunition, according to Ministry of Health.

“It is unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time,” stated Médecins Sans Frontières.

As the Embassy partied and visitors “clapped and cheered”, Gaza’s hospitals, already teetering on collapse resulting from restrictions on all coming in to the besieged Strip — including electricity, with water contaminated — had surgeons operating day and night, with the injured being treated in the hospital car parks even, due to the overwhelming influx of those targeted.

In another world, just sixty miles away: ‘Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, stood on a stage painted with the US flag and said:

Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump.  The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.1

Deaths had risen to fifty nine.

Of the eighty six Ambassadors to Israel, only thirty two attended the ceremony, with fifty four boycotting and only four EU Member countries attending.

Moreover:

The Haaretz newspaper reported that most EU member States did not participate in the ceremony because they have a firm policy towards the transfer of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It said that the ambassadors of Russia, Egypt, India, Japan and Mexico also did not attend the celebration.

Fallout has been swift. French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to Jordan’s King Abdullah condemned the “violence of the Israeli armed forces …” and again criticized the moving of the Embassy.

King Abdullah, of course, has custodianship of all Jerusalem’s Holy Sites and: ‘has the right to exert all legal efforts to safeguard them, especially Al Aqsa Mosque, which is defined as “The Entirety of Al Haram Al Sharif.” ‘ As far as can be ascertained thus far, it seems that this important, indeed unique, historic custodianship was neither discussed with the King or his representatives, nor even a consideration of the Trump Administration as they bulldozed their way through diplomacy, history and all norms in their Jerusalem settlement.

NATO ally President Erdogan of Turkey has recalled his Ambassadors to Israel and the US.

South Africa recalled their Ambassador to Israel, with immediate effect, as the Embassy celebrations were ongoing.

Ireland has summoned Israel’s Ambassador to protest Israeli violence.

Kuwait moved for an emergency meeting of the UN, which was blocked by the US. A ‘draft statement included language expressing “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.” ‘

‘It also reaffirmed UN resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, saying that recent events had “no legal effect” under international law. The statement was withdrawn once the US indicate that it would block it, a UN diplomat said.’ (CNN, 15th May 2018.)

Qatar condemned “a massacre” and “savage killings.”

Germany, somewhat weakly, expressed concern at the massacre saying: “The right to peaceful protest must also apply in Gaza”, via a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

In the UK, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry in an unusually unequivocal statement said:

We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been lied or injured as a result.

These actions are made all the worse because they come not as the result of a disproportionate over-reaction to one day’s protests, but as the culmination of six weeks of an apparently systemic and deliberate policy of killing and maiming unarmed protestors and bystanders who pose no threat to the forces at the Gaza border, many of them shot in the back, many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.

Throughout that six-week period, the UN’s Secretary General has been calling for an independent investigation into these incidents, one that should urgently determine whether international law has been broken, and hold the Netanyahu government to account for their actions. The UK should lead calls for the UN Security Council to order such an investigation today.

These incidents must also be the catalyst for urgent and concerted international pressure on the Netanyahu government to lift the blockade on Gaza, and end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. No longer can Netanyahu act as a law unto himself, under the protection of the Trump administration, whose decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem today has further inflamed the situation.

Chile, with the largest population of Palestinians outside the Arab world, raised Palestinian flags outside the main entrance of the Presidential Palace of La Moneda.

Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, read the names of the Gaza massacre victims at the UN session, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

The mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has demanded an arms embargo on Israel, demanding backing of Amnesty International’s call for a global arms embargo on Israel. Amnesty has condemned: “ … an abhorrent violation of International Law and human rights. “

Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”

Writer, broadcaster and academic, Kenan Malik Tweeted:

@kenanmalik

Mark Regev, Israeli ambassador to the UK, considers the shooting dead of 58 Palestinians and the wounding of 2700 as “measured” and “surgical”. I’d hate to know what is his definition of “unmeasured” or “non-surgical.”

The death toll became sixty.

From the Trumposphere, Donald Trump input:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

May 14

Big day for Israel. Congratulations!

However, on this day of diplomatic thuggery  — which the US State Department flagged as a “historic move” — the five times Draft Dodger in Chief it seems reverted to type. The man to whom limelight is seemingly indispensible, stayed in Washington and addressed the Embassy gathering by video, from a safe 5,897 miles away, dodging any potential conflict, demonstrations, dissent. Trump, of course, pulled out of a visit to London in February, to open the new US Embassy, which has also relocated, reportedly for fear of the massive protests planned at his stay.

The man who can menace Iran, threaten North Korea with: “ … fire and fury and frankly the power the likes of which like this world has never seen”, cowers from peaceful protesters with placards. No wonder he had no intention of showing up in Jerusalem, even as guest of honour, surrounded by steel rings of security, in a region destabilized by the US and “allies” for decades, with the unarmed, indigenous population simply demanding some justice sixty miles away.

Donald Trump, it seems, talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. Perhaps someone also told him Armageddon is in Israel (site now named Megiddo.)

  1. Guardian, 15th May 2018.