As the UN General Assembly begins its meeting today in New York City, Amnesty International is delivering 187,563 signatures to the White House in a global call to cut off weapons that fuel abuses in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
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.
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.
On September 6th, I posted a blog concerning what I considered bad reporting by many in the mainstream media, ‘Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal Despite Media Headlines’.
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.
Justice Richard Goldstone’s opinion piece (April 1, 2011) in the Washington Post ‘Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes’ does not ‘vindicate’ the State of Israel as the government of Israel would have us believe, nor was the Op-Ed piece a ‘retraction’ of the report in its entirety as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal would have had us believe.
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.
Yesterday, approximately 55 Arabs, including 14 children, were evicted from their houses in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jewish families that claimed ownerships of the property. Soon after the evictions, these families moved in under the protection of Jerusalem police.
However, the US, UN, and UK have all come out strongly against these evictions. “Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community,” the State Department said in a released statement. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, said that the Arab families had been living there for more than 50 years.
Evictions, settlements, and the greater question of Jerusalem remain among the most contentious obstacles to a sustainable peace. Actions such as this are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory.
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post