Edith Garwood is the Amnesty International USA Country Specialist for Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Palestine (State of). She's a long time human rights activist that acted as Country Coordinator for AIUSA on Israel and the Occupied Territories during the first intifada as well (1987-1993). She has lived, studied and traveled in the Middle East throughout the past two decades and was recently awarded the 17th annual International Human Rights Award by the Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina.
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Today, we woke up to find the exchange of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and 477 Palestinian prisoners.
As news services around the world covering the exchange highlight Gilad Shalit’s ordeal of being held for five years in virtual incommunicado detention and the story of the Palestinian prisoners being released – some having been held for decades – one thing is glaringly obvious – this whole episode highlights the need for the humane treatment of all detainees – whether Palestinian or Israeli.
As you may have heard, Palestinian authorities have embarked on a major diplomatic effort to secure wider recognition of a Palestinian state and an upgraded status at the United Nations. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently submitted an application for full UN membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Palestine currently has the status of an observer entity at the UN General Assembly, where it is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). An application for full membership is currently being considered by the UN Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members. The UN Committee will issue its analysis of the historic Palestinian bid for statehood around mid-October.
Amnesty International recently signed on to a joint open letter to members of the MiddleEast Quartet — an important mediating body in the peace process that includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — with almost two dozen other human rights and humanitarian organizations in regards to the Palmer commission’s report on the 2010 flotilla incident and the continued closure of Gaza.
The media has gone crazy these past couple of days announcing that the UN-appointed panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid last summer, known as the Palmer Commission, found that the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza is legal and that Israel used excessive force during the raid.
From the Jerusalem Post to the BBC, headlines scream that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal. This is not only completely false, it distracts from the main point of the inquiry which was to determine if excessive use of force was used by Israeli forces during the raid on the flotilla in international waters and how to avoid a similar incident like this from happening again.
The contents of the Palmer Report were made public Thursday by the New York Times. The report itself, which was completed last February, was being delayed at the UN while Turkey and Israel negotiated over language and played behind-the-scenes politics.
Although this video was produced one year after operation ‘Cast Lead’ ended, former AI researcher, Francesca Burke, speaks about the difficulties in getting in materials to rebuild and recover from the devastation of the military conflict as well as the blockade which still holds true and relevant today.
Even if all the humanitarian needs of the population were relieved, the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade would still violate the Gazans’ basic human rights.
Corporal Gilad Shalit was only 19 years old when he was captured on June 25th 2006 by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas’s military wing.
He is 24 years old now. On June 25th, it will be over five years since Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad’s parents, have been able to touch their son or speak to him directly – even by mail. It has been nearly two years since they’ve even seen him on video or received any other proof of life.
“As the days go by, we begin to despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares … or whether he is even alive.” (Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s father, addressing the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, July 6, 2009)
Goldstone’s opinion piece simply stated that in light of evidence presented by Israel through military investigations, he does not believe Israeli forces intentionally targeted civilians “as a matter of policy” during Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ Dec. 27, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009. The original report initially asserted that in certain cases, Israeli forces carried out “direct intentional strikes against civilians.”
Assessing whether specific Israeli attacks on civilians during the conflict were deliberate is extremely difficult because the Israeli military has not released the evidence that would allow independent parties to evaluate its conclusions. Amnesty has not argued that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted Palestinian civilians “as a matter of policy”, but that IDF rules of engagement and actions during the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Justice Goldstone’s recent comments do not dispute this assessment.
UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict. It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st. (See below).
UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.
Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report. The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.
This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators. AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.
Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) issued a press release late Friday (2/18/2011) after the United States, a permanent member of the UN Security Council vetoed a UNSC resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are illegal and demanding that Israel cease all settlement activities in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.
Amnesty believes the U.S. veto gives Israel a ‘green light’ to continue building settlements in the OPT. Israel welcomed the veto while Palestinians were disappointed, angry and frustrated saying the veto has set back the peace process.
This past December 27th marked the second year anniversary of the Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip that killed and injured hundreds, including over 300 children as the initial attacks took place as children were leaving school.
More Palestinians were killed in that one day than in all 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; it also was the first day of 22 long, torturous days of death and destruction.
Over 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel – three of the Israelis and the majority of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians. In September 2009, a UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (UN FFM) led by Justice Richard Goldstone published its findings that found both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict. The report recommended that the relevant authorities should investigate the crimes it identified and that, if they failed to do so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).