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.
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.
An opinion piece written last week by Dani Dayan, a leader of an association of Israeli settlers, has sparked controversy over whether – as Dayan claims – Israeli settlers have a moral right to live in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). What has been missing so far from the discussion is the human rights perspective on the issue that Amnesty International considers most important.
Dayan insists in his column that “Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay” and argues that instead of trying to find a two-state solution, American diplomats should accept the status quo and “maintain the current reality on the ground.”
His argument, however, leaves out one significant fact — the establishment of settlements in the OPT violates international humanitarian law and also constitutes a serious violation of the prohibition on discrimination. The presence of settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population including, but not limited to, policies involving access to water, restrictions on movement, land confiscation and home demolitions. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
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.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) issued a press release late Friday (2/18/2011) after the United States, a permanent member of the UN Security Council vetoed a UNSC resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are illegal and demanding that Israel cease all settlement activities in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.
Amnesty believes the U.S. veto gives Israel a ‘green light’ to continue building settlements in the OPT. Israel welcomed the veto while Palestinians were disappointed, angry and frustrated saying the veto has set back the peace process.
A coalition of student groups from the Arizona university system invited me recently to talk to the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) about Caterpillar, Inc’s role in violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Although an unusual setting, I accepted for a number of reasons.
Although Amnesty International (AI) hasn’t focused on Caterpillar (CAT) in an action since our 2004 report, there has been a frightening surge in home demolitions and forced evictions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem recently, as well as demolitions in ‘unrecognized’ villages like Al-‘Araqib inside Israel – which has a current AI Urgent Action in effect. Over the past 3 weeks, the IDF has demolished dozens of structures in the OPT and the Israeli authorities continue to use CAT equipment regularly to carry out these demolitions, so AI continues to have longstanding and ongoing concerns.
The day before I left for Arizona, the IDF demolished 10 residential structures and the village school in the West Bank village of Khirbet Tana. Sixty-one (61) people including 13 children were left without shelter.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has approved the construction of hundreds of new homes in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem despite statements by the U.S. government, including many by President Obama, that settlements are an obstacle to peace.
This BBC News video with Paul Wood aired on the BBC September 7th gives a good summary of situation.
There are approximately 500,000 Israelis living on settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. All settlements are illegal according to international law and no country, with the exception of Micronesia and Israel itself, view it otherwise.
Israel does not recognize the West Bank and east J’lem as occupied, but the majority of the international community, including the United States continue to hold both the territories as occupied and should be afforded the protections under the Geneva Conventions and other international bodies of law.
Under international law, an occupying power cannot transfer it’s population into territory it is occupying or change the demography unless it is for the benefit of the population being temporarily occupied. Some say that the Israeli gov’t (GOI) is not transferring it’s population; the population is voluntarily moving there so this argument is mute. This is disingenuous though as east J’lem and the West Bank are considered occupied territory and the GOI provides infrastructure and military support for the settlements to exist. Without government subsidies, support and encouragement, the settlements would not exist, nor would the growth continue at such a rate.
Although the current U.S. position supported by President Obama calling for a freeze on settlement expansion including so-called ‘natural growth’ is considered ‘unreasonable’ by some, it actually doesn’t go far enough.
The GOI has been changing the demography and encouraging settlement of east J’lem and the West Bank for over 40 years against international law. Obama is simply asking Israel to cease illegal activity. The GOI should not only halt construction, but begin implementing removal of all illegal settlers from occupied territory since all settlements and outposts are illegal, including those in east J’lem and compensate those Palestinians displaced or forced from their homes due to home demolitions or evictions.
Israeli senior officials yesterday said that Israel is open to a 3-6 month complete settlement freeze (including natural growth) in order to allow for Palestinian negotiations to take place. Officials asked they not be named, as the issue is so “explosive” within Israel that they do not wish to be associated with the idea yet.
Despite the officials’ claims, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who meets with US envoy George Mitchell this week, has shied away from the subject, saying “the matter mentioned in the headlines has not been finalized.”
This freeze, however, would allow for existing settlement construction to continue. Currently, over 2000 new buildings are under construction across the Palestinian West Bank. While not meeting US calls for a complete freeze, a brief halt to new settlements is indicative of the Israeli desire to move on from the current tension between the two countries.
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post
The Middle East Quartet are set to meet this Friday, June 26, in Trieste, Italy. The meeting comes at a critical time with hopes of re-starting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Obama has repeatedly stated his position that the Jewish only settlements in both the West Bank and east Jerusalem are ‘illegitimate’ to the chagrin of Israeli officials use to a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ policy where they do what they want concerning settlement activities while the U.S. looks the other way. This tacit behavior was the norm during past administrations. The U.S. position on the illegitimacy of settlements is in line with international law and international consensus which has long viewed settlements as illegal. Israeli authorities, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, have repeatedly stated their intentions to continue what they call ‘natural growth’ building.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Trieste soon and AIUSA has sent a letter to her and cc’d Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell urging her to stand firm in the U.S. position on a complete settlement freeze and also containing a few more pressing concerns that we hope Sec’y Clinton remembers in discussions with other members of the Quartet (the EU, the UN and Russia).
The letter to Clinton not only re-iterates the illegality of the Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but outlines the effect that settlements have had and are having on the local Palestinians living there. Not only have settlements negatively impacted the Palestinians’ standard of living, housing, education, health and work, but are inherently discriminatory in nature. Settlements, land surrounding settlements and by-pass roads built for easy commutes to Israel are exclusively for Israelis. Not only is water accessed in the OPT being re-directed to settlers and Israel at a 4:1 ratio, security measures taken by Israel, including over 600 roadblocks, checkpoints and the wall/fence much of which is being built on Palestinian territory have long been detrimental to any peace negotiations.
AIUSA believes previous attempts at resolving the conflict failed in part because they did not address these key issues. And actions must include more than just dismantling recently established settlements, referred to as “unauthorized outposts”. Israel should never have transferred its civilian population into the OPT and given that successive Israeli governments have consistently encouraged Israeli civilians to move to the OPT, Israeli authorities should now provide compensation for settler evacuations and assist them to re-settle. A study conducted by Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) in 2003 found that the majority of Israelis living in settlements would re-locate if offered an adequate economic incentive.
The letter also addresses our continuing concerns about human rights violations in areas under Palestinian Authority control despite training provided under the leadership of Lt. General Keith Dayton, U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Arbitrary detentions, disregard for due process and ill-treatment and torture of detainees in PA detention centers continue to be reported.
We asked that these issues be raised and that U.S. training of PA security forces results in a professional force that respects human rights while providing security.
UPDATE 6/26/09: Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily, published ‘Quartet to urge Israel: Freeze all settlement activity’. A European diplomat said that the Quartet would tell Israel Friday to put a freeze on all settlement activity, including “natural growth”.
President Obama’s strategy of “reaching out to the Muslim world” over the past few weeks has inspired strong sentiments of both praise and derision from across the US to the Muslim world itself. Supporters see him heralding a brilliant new vision for American foreign policy while critics view this vision as little more than naïve pandering.
Among what is widely seen as a departure from the past, the president has stood steadfast on the issue of Israeli settlement expansion, calling for a complete freeze on settlements being built in the West Bank, including “natural growth”. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this is the same position taken by the Bush Administration in 2003’s Road Map to Peace. By demarking expansion (natural or not) as the only settlement issue, he legitimizes already-built settlements as permissible—though they are anything but. International Law clearly states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, so in order to comply with this, all settlements must be disassembled.
Settlements continue to grow at a staggering rate, with settlement populations in East Jerusalem growing faster than the general population in 2008: 4.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent. There are currently close to 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank.
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post