What Will It Take For the Israeli Military to Stop Imprisoning Natan Blanc?

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

5/30/2013 UPDATE: Success! What does it take for the Israeli military to stop imprisoning Natan Blanc? It takes Amnesty International and other activists making their concerns known and taking action.

Natan Blanc’s father received a call from his son telling him that he had been informed that he would be released at the end of his current prison term. The decision apparently follows a decision by the Unsuitability (or Compatibility) Committee which – according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – is designed to deal with people with behavioral problems who are deemed unsuitable for army service. It is not a committee which explores whether someone is a genuine conscientious objector or not. In practice, it seems to work as a mechanism for the IDF to rid itself of the problem of conscientious objectors who have been repeatedly imprisoned by declaring their ‘unsuitability’ based on poor mental health or discipline problems.

Natan is expected to be set free June 6th.  Thank you for taking action.  No further action is required at this time.

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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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Help a student from Gaza not miss another day of school

Want to help a student who has worked hard both academically and in his community?  Someone who has gone through the madness of applying and being accepted at a university in the United States even earning a partial scholarship?  (Not an easy task.)  Want to help someone that has already had to miss fall semester and is in danger of missing spring semester and losing his scholarship?

Abed earns his degree in 2008.

Abed Al Hadi Basheer is 24 years old and trying to better himself so he can continue to help children in his community and better care for his blind father and family.  He has been accepted into Washington State University’s College of Education Cultural Studies and Social Thought program in Pullman, WA with a partial scholarship and has received letters of support from professors who live in Pullman that met Abed when they travelled to the Gaza Strip on a Fulbright-Hays project.  He also has letters on his behalf from both Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington state.

What is wrong with him?  Or, what has he done wrong?  Nothing.  Well, he was born in the Gaza Strip.

Due to Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, there are stringent restrictions on all movement of people into and out of Gaza.

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Gilad Shalit is not a 'Bargaining Chip'

Amnesty International was born out of the injustice of the forgotten prisoner.  In 1960, a British lawyer, Peter Benenson, read a story about the imprisonment of two Portuguese students, who had raised their wine glasses in a toast to freedom, but had been overheard and imprisoned.  Benenson wrote an article, ‘The Forgotten Prisoner’ for The Observer which started the worldwide movement, Amnesty International, which works on behalf of prisoners and in support of basic human rights for all.

Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit is completing his fourth year of isolated captivity June 25th, 2010.

Although Hamas has asserted that Gilad is alive and being well treated, the only communications that Gilad has had with the outside world, and indeed the only real proof of life that have been put forward, are a videotape and letter written by him in 2007, a year after he was captured, and another videotape passed on to the Israeli government in October 2009.

Amnesty International members have been campaigning on behalf of Gilad Shalit since 2006 and to also end the misuse of administrative detention of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories by Israel and for family visits.  Amnesty has condemned the use of prisoners as political bargaining chips as a violation of international law by both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in the Gaza Strip, noting both Israel’s detention of Palestinian parliamentarians as well as the detention of Gilad Shalit.

As Gilad’s captivity closes in on the fifth year of secret imprisonment, Amnesty International urges Hamas to abide by its international obligations.  Gilad should be afforded his rights to regular visitation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), regular communication with his family and to be treated humanely.    He should also not be used as a ‘bargaining chip’.

Don’t let Gilad become a ‘forgotten prisoner’.  Join Amnesty in its call for Gilad to be treated humanely by taking action online now.

Local activists targeted in occupied Palestinian territories

Abdallah Abu Rahme is affable and articulate.  Last July, when I called to set up a time to talk before one of the weekly protests in his village, Bi’lin in the occupied West Bank, he made jokes and explained exactly the best way to get there from Jerusalem through all the checkpoints and roadblocks.

Abdallah’s vocation is teaching, but what takes up a good portion of his time is his involvement with the village’s non-violent popular committee which protests the wall/fence built by Israel that snakes through the occupied West Bank (WB).  Israel says the wall is being built for security reasons; others that the wall is simply strangling villages’ economies by cutting them off from their agricultural lands and water sources.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal where it sits on Palestinian territory and should be removed.  Eighty percent of the wall is built on Palestinian territory, but five plus years later, most of the wall continues to sit  and be built on Palestinian land.  Popular committees have sprung up across the WB to protest the wall and over the past 18 months, there appears to be an increase in the harassment and prosecution of activists involved in this and other non-violent actions.

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Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water

Israel is denying Palestinians their right to access to adequate water by using discriminatory and restrictive policies.

Donatella Rovera, senior researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories said,

“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse.”

The report, “Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water,” says Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT, while restricting Palestinian access to 20 per cent.  Israel takes all the water from the Jordan River,  the Palestinians get none.

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Dear President Obama, When you meet with President Peres …

Israeli President, Shimon Peres, speaking to AIPAC at annual conference today.

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.

Will victims of Gaza tragedy ever find justice?

Although the UN initiated a Board of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Gaza, Dion Nissenbaum, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for McClatchy news company, says

 ”I’m not sure what impact this UN report is going to have.” He continues to explain, “I think the only thing that the Israeli government will look at is reports from Israeli soldiers. Israel has always been skeptical of the United Nations, the international press, and they are certainly skeptical of what comes out of the Palestinians.”

Stories from members of the Israeli forces came out recently and created a firestorm of discussion within Israel about accusations which had already been levelled by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the international media and other NGO’s working in the area.  These stories from the soldiers were given more credit than all the evidence presented from outside sources.

Sadly, these stories were discounted out of hand by investigators and the IDF investigation has been closed already saying the stories by the IDF members were based on ‘hearsay’.

So will there ever be justice for the victims of the human rights violations that took place during the Gaza crisis?

Amnesty Int’l has been calling for an independent, impartial international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties involved be undertaken from the beginning and has said that the UN inquiry is insufficient in that it only looks into attacks on UN personnel and facilities.  Other human rights groups are also calling for an independent inquiry and look on the IDF’s eagerness to close the investigation into the IDF members’ stories as questionable:

“the speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that [it] was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity…”

UPDATE (April 3, 12:10pm):  The UN Human Rights Council announced today that the former chief prosecutor of two criminal tribunals, Richard J. Goldstone will lead a probe into allegations of war crimes committed during Gaza crisis between December 27th, 2008 and January 18th, 2009 by all parties involved.  This investigation is separate from the UN Board of Inquiry created by the UN Security Council which was formed to look into specific attacks on UN personnel and facilities in Gaza.

New Amnesty report calls for comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Hamas

Amnesty International released a report today ‘Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza’ calling for a comprehensive arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas.  Amnesty researchers during their fact finding mission in Gaza found both Israel and Hamas used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians.

The report states that Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians and destoyed homes on a massive scale while Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets that had been smuggled in or made of components from abroad at civilian areas in Israel. The report points out that although far less lethal than the weaponry used by Israel, such rocket firing also constitutes a war crime and caused several civilian deaths.

Bomb shelter in Sderot, Israel in Dec. 2008. www.activestills.org

Of course the the Gov’t of Israel and Hamas have both rejected the findings of the report with their own justifications for their actions and wide, sweeping statements against Amnesty International methodology.  [Watch for future blogs addressing the responses.]

The report takes a closer look at white phosphorous but also documents how US made shell fragments were found throughout Gaza including by the American School in Gaza, homes, playgrounds, hospitals.   The misuse of flechettes, artillery and mortars, DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) and tank ammunition is also included. The report documents the use of US made missiles in the killing of civilians, including an incident where an AGM 114 Hellfire missile produced by Hellfire Systems of Orlando, killed three paramedics and a child.

The team also documented the use of a new type of missile, apparently launched from unmanned drones, which explodes tiny sharp-edged metal cubes which can penetrate thick metal doors and maximize injury.  These missiles have killed a 13 year old girl asleep in her bed, three primary school-age boys carrying sugar cane, two young women on their way to a shelter, a 13 year old boy on his bicycle, eight secondary school students waiting for the school bus, and entire family sitting in the courtyard of their home and many others.

The report points out that for many years the USA has been the major supplier of conventional arms to Israel and has a 10-year agreement (to 2017) in which the USA is due to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel, a 25 percent increase compared to the period preceding the Bush administration. Based on the US being the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights. And based on the evidence gathered showing a direct link to US made weaponry used against civilians, the Obama Administration should immediately suspend US military aid to Israel.

There’s too much information in the report to include in one blog post.  The report has also gained a lot of attention overseas in such non-English publications as El Pais, Le Monde , Diario Portugal, El Mundo as well as responses from the Government of Israel and Hamas officials.  Look for more posts on this subject to come.