My Brother Went to War in Gaza, I Stayed Back as Amnesty International Israel Director

Palestinians salvage items from the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City's al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip entered a second day on August 6, 2014. (Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinians salvage items from the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City’s al-Tufah neighborhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip entered a second day on August 6, 2014 (Photo credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images).

By Yonatan Gher, Executive Director, Amnesty International Israel

My brother and I are experiencing the current Israel-Gaza conflict quite differently. He is 20, serving out his military service and has been fighting in Gaza. I, on the other hand, am the Executive Director of Amnesty International Israel, an organization that is now heavily involved in documenting and campaigning on apparent crimes perpetrated by both sides of this conflict. I am also a conscientious objector.

My position does not diminish from the fact that I spend my days worried sick about him and other family members in similar situations. When you have such complexity in a family situation, humor is often the best approach, and so we joke sometimes that if the rest of the world heeds Amnesty International’s call for an arms embargo, I’ll be coming for his gun first.

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‘Nowhere in Gaza is Safe’: Fieldworker Tells of Life Under Bombs

An Israeli army Merkava tank is positioned along the border in front of buildings in the Gaza Strip on July 28, 2014. (Photo credit: David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

An Israeli army Merkava tank is positioned along the border in front of buildings in the Gaza Strip on July 28, 2014 (Photo credit: David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images).

Interview with a human rights fieldworker in Gaza

This morning as I brushed my teeth I could hear the familiar buzzing of a drone circling above our building. I ignored the sound. Drones circle overhead all the timeyou never know whether it’s just for surveillance or an impending missile launch.

The uncertainty makes you feel helpless. What can anyone do?

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Investigating Rocket Attacks in Israel

The following post is by Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme

Damaged building in Rishon Lezion apartment building in Tel Aviv

Damage to an apartment building in Rishon LeZion, outside Tel Aviv, from rockets fired from Gaza. © Amnesty International

It was dawn when we arrived in Israel to begin our investigation into rocket attacks from Gaza which by the end of the latest flare in violence had left six Israelis, including four civilians, dead, at least 40 injured and 300 more treated for shock.

Up in the sky oddly shaped vapour trails made us wonder if these were the remnants of the “Iron Dome” missiles – used to intercept the rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups which this time reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

One of the rooms in our apartment was the obligatory mamad – a bomb shelter which all new builds in Israel must have. Windowless, with reinforced walls, it’s there to protect residents during rocket attacks.

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Gaza Blockade: Still Operational, Still Violating Human Rights

gaza blockade white house

One of our postcard actions in front of the White house

This morning, Amnesty International USA delivered thousands of signed postcards to the White House.  The postcards call on President Obama to push for an end to Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip. For over five years, the 1.6 million Palestinians of Gaza have lived under an Israeli military blockade that has left more than one million Palestinians dependent on international humanitarian aid.

The postcards, signed by thousands of Amnesty International supporters and members across the US, call attention to Israel’s near ban on exports from the Gaza Strip.  The Gazan economy has been effectively crippled by this export ban and other aspects of the blockade.

As a result, massive numbers of Palestinians now live in a state of permanent unemployment.  Our 2012 human rights report documents that over 70 percent of Gaza’s residents now depend on humanitarian aid.  While imports into Gaza have increased since mid-2010, they are still far below the levels allowed before the blockade began in 2007.

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Send a Tweet, Free a Prisoner

Just one week after a global Twitter campaign by Amnesty International, Palestinian Waleed Hanatsheh walked free from an Israeli prison.  Israeli officials had jailed him without charge or trial for periods totaling some 5 years of his life.  But after facing the public spotlight, those same Israeli officials let Hanatsheh go home.

In this online campaign, Amnesty International members and staff targeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (@IsraeliPM), the Israeli Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson), and the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC (@IsraelinUSA):

Since the 1960s, Amnesty International members have been using whatever form of communication it takes to reach governments, politicians, corporations and other targets. From mailing letters to prison cells (yes, we still do this!) to taking our demands in person to embassies, Amnesty International members have helped release tens of thousands of prisoners over the years.

The Internet has become more important to our advocacy in recent years, but does it actually work?  Can electronic messages impact governmental policies or help free prisoners in far flung countries?

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Rachel Corrie, Michael J. Fox and the Right to Housing

gaza demolitions

The remains of a home in Gaza after it was demolished by Israeli authorities in 2002

A few weeks before she died, Rachel Corrie wrote to her mother from Rafah, Gaza. ‘I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar,’ she said, ‘and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers.’

As we know, she never had the chance to do any of those things again. Following this week’s verdict in the lawsuit filed by Rachel’s parents – accusing the Israeli military of unlawfully killing Rachel, either intentionally or through gross negligence – there has been much crucial discussion of the circumstances surrounding Rachel’s death. It is also imperative that we remember the human rights work of Rachel’s life.

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Verdict Expected in Death of Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie protests in Gaza

Rachel Corrie just hours prior to her being crushed in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 16, 2003 trying to protect a home from demolition. Photo courtesy Rachel Corrie Foundation

UPDATE: The Haifa District Court in Israel has returned a verdict maintaining that the Israeli military is not responsible for ‘damages caused’ because the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer was engaged in a combat operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003.  See Amnesty International’s USA statement on this verdict: ‘Rachel Corrie Verdict Highlights Impunity for Israeli Military’.

By Edith Garwood, country specialist on Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories/Palestinian Authority for Amnesty International USA

Tomorrow, August 28th, the family of Rachel Corrie will receive a verdict in the civil lawsuit they filed against the State of Israel for the killing of Rachel. Will that verdict deliver justice following the death of their daughter, who was killed in Gaza? Or will the verdict maintain impunity for the Israeli military?

In 2003, Rachel was killed while taking non-violent action to stop an Israeli military bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian family’s home in the Gaza Strip. During the demolition, the Israeli bulldozer ran the young American woman over.

The Corrie family’s suit charges Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a full and credible investigation in the case. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST