Natan Blanc, Back in Israeli Prison

Natan Blanc (Photo Credit: Hagar Shezaf for Amnesty International).

Natan Blanc (Photo Credit: Hagar Shezaf for Amnesty International).

By Nehal Amer, Social Media Specialist, Middle East Coordination Group

They did it again. Israeli authorities have put 19 year-old Natan Blanc in prison for the ninth time for courageously putting into practice his conscientiously held beliefs and refusing to serve in the Israeli military.

We have followed Natan’s on-going struggle through Urgent Actions and a blog posted on April 8, 2013.

Amnesty International considers those imprisoned for total or selective objection to military service for reasons of conscience to be prisoners of conscience who should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Natan has served some 130 days in jail already since refusing the military call-up for the first time last November. Every few weeks he is released, then tried and imprisoned again after repeating his refusal to serve in the army.

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One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.

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A Bloodstained Wall Full of Flechettes

(Originally posted on Livewire)

Monday January 26: The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza has captured much of the world’s media interest. However, the Israeli forces also used a variety of other weapons against civilian residential built-up areas throughout the Gaza Strip in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.

Among these are flechettes – tiny metal darts (4cm long, sharply pointed at the front and with four fins at the rear) that are packed into120mm shells. These shells, generally fired from tanks, explode in the air and scatter some 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes in a conical pattern over an area around 300 metres wide and 100 metres long.

Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.

The Israeli Army has used flechettes in Gaza periodically for several years. In most reported cases, their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured. The last reported case was in April 2008, when Israeli soldiers fired a flechette shell at Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana while he was filming in Gaza, killing him.

He was filming the tank at the time and caught its firing of the flechette shell on camera in the split second before he was killed. Other civilians, including children, were killed and injured by the same flechette shell.

The Israeli Army said later that it had investigated the incident and concluded that its troops’ actions were justified – although the film footage of the incident showed clearly shows that Fadel Shana and others who were killed and injured were posing no threat to the soldiers in the tank when they fired the flechette shell, or to anyone else.

We first heard about the use of flechettes in the conflict that began on 27 December some 10 days ago. The father of one of the victims showed us a flechette that had been taken out of his son’s body.

Then, when we went to a Bedouin village in north Gaza, we saw several flechettes embedded in the walls of houses and residents told us that the street had been littered with them after the attack. Today, we found more hard evidence of their use in two other villages.

In ‘Izbat Beit Hanoun, to the south-west of the town of Beit Hanoun, several flechette shells were fired into the main road, killing two people and injuring several others on the morning of 5 January. Wafa’ Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was one of those killed.

Her husband and her mother-in-law told us that the family had just had breakfast and were outside the house drinking tea in the sun. Wafa’ and her husband were standing by the corner of the house when they heard a noise, followed by screams.

They turned to go back into their house, but, at that moment, Wafa’ and several other members of the family were hit by flechettes. Wafa’ was killed outright. Her two-year-old son, who was in the house, was struck by a flechette which became embedded in his right knee.

Wafa’s husband, Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad, and his father were both injured in the back and other parts of the body. One of the flechettes that hit Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad is still lodged in his back, close to his spinal cord. It was clearly visible in an X-ray that he showed to us. Doctors have not attempted to remove it as they fear that he could be left paralyzed.

At the other end of the same street, we visited the house of 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd-al-Dayem, who was hit on the same day by a flechette that struck him in the neck. He was taken to the hospital’s ICU (intensive care unit) but died three days later.

Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back. We found flechettes embedded in the walls of these and several other houses nearby – the tiny darts explode out of their shell with such force that sometimes only the fins at the back are left sticking out when they become embedded in walls.

In the village of al-Mughraqa, a few kilometres south of Gaza City, dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombardments and shelling. Most residents of the area fled from their homes when the Israeli ground incursion began on 3 January. But some did not, with tragic consequences.

They included Atta Hassan Aref Azzam, who feared that if he left his home it would be destroyed. He decided to stay. He and his family remained inside their house because there was frequent shelling and shooting in the area, only going out to fetch water.

At 8.30 am on 7 January, a shell struck the room in which Atta Azzam was sitting with two of his children, Mohammed, aged 13, and Hassan, aged two and a half, killing all three of them. The six other members of the family who were in the house fled to the nearest school for shelter. When we examined the bloodstained wall by which the three were killed, we saw that it was full of flechettes.

– Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London