Amnesty International, one member of a 20 member strong coalition of major international humanitarian and human rights organizations that work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), issued a joint press release yesterday announcing that there has been a record number of unlawful demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families from their homes and calling on the Middle East Quartet to change their failing approach.
The Middle East Quartet, made up of representatives from the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union, is currently meeting in Jerusalem in an attempt to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
On Tuesday, Israel did not even try to hide the fact that their plans to accelerate the construction of 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem – an area considered as ‘occupied’ by the international community thus making the construction illegal – was in response to and part of a series of punishments to be meted out against the Palestinian Authority for their successful pursuit for full membership to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and pursuit for full recognition for the State of Palestine by the United Nations body itself.
What is significant as well, but I’m afraid being over-looked, is that the announcement also came just two days after the well-respected organization, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), submitted a major and precedent-setting report to three of the UN’s Special Rapporteurs claiming that Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem violate international law and may constitute a war crime and asking for an investigation into these practices.
Israeli President, Shimon Peres, speaking to AIPAC at annual conference today.
Israeli President, Shimon Peres, flew to the United States to give a speech at the 2009 AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual conference in Washington DC Monday and to meet with President Obama Tuesday at the White House. YouTube already has a video of his speech.
Although George Mitchell, Special Envoy to the Middle East who was appointed by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with Israeli officials, this will be the first meeting between President Obama and a high ranking official from the newly established Israeli government under Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu which is considered ‘right-wing’.
AIUSA asked President Obama to raise the issues of increasing settlement expansion in the West Bank and the eviction of Palestinian families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem. Despite repeated U.S. statements condemning the demolitions and settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, settlement expansion and demolitions continue. Settlement building/expansion, evictions and demolitions in occupied territory are also illegal under international law.
Demolitions in east Jerusalem have increased dramatically in the last two years with wide swathes of land slated for demolitions. Settlement expansion which has been in the works for some time is now being given the green light by newly elected government officials.
Obama has also been asked to follow up on recent events in Gaza. Despite statements by Sec’y Clinton that goods and humanitarian aid is getting into the Gaza Strip, other sources such as the U.N. and other monitors on the ground continue to report excessive restrictions which continue to keep out spare parts for medical equipment or equipment needed to rebuild, such as bulldozers.
We’ve also asked that Obama urge Israel to cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the team created by the United Nations Human Rights Council and under the leadership of Justice Richard Goldstone, a highly respected war crimes prosecutor. Justice Goldstone has stated that he will be investigating the allegations of human rights abuses by all parties involved in the conflict. The team is currently meeting in Geneva to organize and outline their investigation into war crimes committed during the Gaza crisis. The government of Israel has publicly stated that they do not plan to cooperate with the team.
Even though the two leaders will be focused on the peace process, human rights are directly linked to any workable resolution. Both parties must respect the basic human rights of each other and the United States must play a key role in getting all the parties involved to recognize this basic tenet.
UPDATE May 6, 2009: Video covering comments made at AIPAC conference and responses.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.