Edith Garwood is the Amnesty International USA Country Specialist for Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Palestine (State of). She's a long time human rights activist that acted as Country Coordinator for AIUSA on Israel and the Occupied Territories during the first intifada as well (1987-1993). She has lived, studied and traveled in the Middle East throughout the past two decades and was recently awarded the 17th annual International Human Rights Award by the Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina.
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This past December 27th marked the second year anniversary of the Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip that killed and injured hundreds, including over 300 children as the initial attacks took place as children were leaving school.
More Palestinians were killed in that one day than in all 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; it also was the first day of 22 long, torturous days of death and destruction.
Over 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel – three of the Israelis and the majority of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians. In September 2009, a UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (UN FFM) led by Justice Richard Goldstone published its findings that found both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict. The report recommended that the relevant authorities should investigate the crimes it identified and that, if they failed to do so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
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.
Grandfather and grandchild watch home in Sur Baher east Jerusalem being demolished by CAT machinery March 2007. Keren Manor/ActiveStills.org
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.
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.
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.
Remarks made by Bono , New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and President Barack Obama stating they hoped Palestinians would find their Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) or Gandhi completely ignore Palestinian nonviolent resistance to brutal oppression.
The presumption that the Palestinian struggle is mainly violent is disturbing. And the dismissal of the people who have sacrificed time, money and even their lives to fight injustice with nonviolence is callous.
Although Palestinian nonviolent resistance dates back to the early 1900’s, the image of armed and violent Palestinians still prevails. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Palestinian refugees from camps in foreign countries, seeing no resolution after decades of displacement, chose armed struggle and more recent suicide bombings in Israel reinforced the perception.
Several factors have hindered a single, iconic figure from emerging or a cohesive civil disobedience movement from blooming despite its continued use by different sectors of Palestinian society.
Sami Awad, Coordinator for the Holy Land Trust, a not-for-profit community support organization committed to nonviolence and the teachings of MLK and Gandhi, aptly points out, “Nonviolence is not something that happens overnight. It’s not a means to end the conflict tomorrow. It’s something that evolves over long periods of time.”
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.
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.
Hamas, the de facto administration in the Gaza Strip, released a video of 23 year old Gilad Shalit. Gilad, an Israeli soldier, was seized by armed Palestinian groups over three years ago in June 2006 in a cross ‘border’ raid. The video is significant as armed Palestinian groups have been detaining him incommunicado except for a couple of letters and an audio tape released over two years ago. Gilad has been denied communication with not only his family, but also the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which contravenes international law. Since his capture, Amnesty International has consistently called for his releaseand for the ICRC to have access to him. AI has done this using both public actions and behind the scenes dialogue.
Negotiations for Gilad Shalit’s release have intensified under the current government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahuand Gilad’s family as well as the nation has been increasingly concerned about his condition and treatment. The following video, although in Hebrew, shows a pale, but otherwise healthy looking Gilad Shalit holding a paper from September 14th.
In exchange for the video, which Israel requested as ‘proof of life’, Israel released 19 Palestinian women prisoners; another female prisoner is due to be released sometime next week. Israel holds several thousand Palestinians, including hundreds of children, in Israeli prisons against international law. Hundreds of detainees are also held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders which can be repeatedly renewed and often includes children. Currently, one child is held under administrative detention, Hamdi Al-Ta’mari. Amnesty International is working on his case. More information available at http://www.dci-pal.org/english/display.cfm?docID=1096&categoryid=16.
Others have been convicted in unfair trials in military courts. It is a major concern that prisoners are held in Israeli prisons instead of in the occupied Palestinian territories which is against international law. Since detainees are held within Israel proper, it is very difficult for families to visit minors in detention or other family members.
This video produced by B’tselem explains how the imprisonment of Palestinians inside Israel proper affects families, including the children:
This exchange, although bringing temporary relief to the Shalit family and joy to the families of the 20 detained female prisoners just highlights the concern Amnesty International outlined in the document ‘Detainees used as bargaining chips by both sides in Israel/Gaza conflict’ published in March 2009. Gilad Shalit, it is believed was taken as leverage in future negotiations with Israeli authorities and many believe Palestinians are regularly taken by Israeli forces for many reasons other than security and one of them is for leverage as well. Hostage taking, that is threatening to harm or continue to detain a detained person in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing something as a condition of their release is expressly prohibited under international law. Such practice threatens the fundamental right to life, personal integrity and liberty and is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law. Under no circumstances is the taking of hostages justifiable.
Negotiations continue with Israel wanting Gilad Shalit released immediately and the Palestinians asking for at least 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to be released and/or an end to the punishing blockade of the strip.
Justice Richard Goldstone, who gained respect internationally for his work in the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and his human rights work in Argentina, South Africa and Kosovo led an investigation into violations of international law committed by all parties involved in the fighting last winter in Gaza and southern Israel. The UN mandated investigation found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the conflict. The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.
US made Hellfire missile manufactured in Orlando, FL used in incident where two Palestinian medics and a child were killed.
Remarks from the State Department and specifically Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice do not bode well for the report’s reception in the Human Rights Council and the recommendation that the HR Council take concrete steps to move the process of accountability forward. Ambassador Rice has said she has ‘serious concerns’ about the mission’s mandate and that it is imperative to not get distracted and look forward to resolve the conflict.
Amnesty International believes that justice and accountability can never be an impediment to peace, but are the foundation to an enduring peace in the region. And that the recommendations contained in the Goldstone report are the best hope for achieving justice for the victims and to end the atmosphere of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators from both sides and help end the cycle of violence.
Justice Richard Goldstone is scheduled to present the findings of his team’s investigation Tuesday, September 29th to the Human Rights Council. The HR Council will then discuss the findings and has the ability to refer the report and its recommendations for consideration by the UN Security Council. The United States recently joined the HR Council and has the ability to sway the council one way or the other.
Amnesty International said yesterday that the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, if implemented, offer the best hope for justice and accountability. The UN-mandated report by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the Gaza conflict this year.
The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.
Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International’s fact finding mission last winter in Israel and the Gaza Strip, said:
“The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don’t get away with murder. The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN’s most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims. The Security Council must refer the Goldstone findings to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.”
Note: The United States holds the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of September.
Despite powerful evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law which emerged during and in the aftermath of the conflict, both Israel and Hamas have failed to carry out credible investigations and prosecute those responsible. The UN Security Council condemned attacks against civilians during the conflict and urged both sides to respect international law, but so far it has turned a blind eye to the allegations of war crimes and other grave violations committed by both sides.
The report’s findings are consistent with those of Amnesty International’s own field investigation into the 22-day conflict during which some 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed (four other Israeli soldiers were killed by their own side in ‘friendly fire’ incidents).
Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children. Amnesty’s investigations also found Israeli forces carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields. Amnesty’s findings also agree with the Goldstone report in that the rocket fire into southern Israel by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, was indiscriminate which constitutes a war crime.
Key findings of the Goldstone report include:
• Israeli forces committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and some possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. Notably, investigations into numerous instances of lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects revealed that the attacks were intentional, that some were launched with the intention of spreading terror among the civilian population and with no justifiable military objective and that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields.
• Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, notably wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. As grave breaches these acts give rise to individual criminal responsibility.
• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing. Notably acts which deprive Palestinians in Gaza of their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their access to an effective remedy and could amount to persecution – a crime against humanity.
• Palestinian armed groups violated the principle of distinction by launching rocket and mortars attacks which cannot be aimed with sufficient precision at military targets and that their attacks into civilian areas which had no intended military target constituted deliberate attacks against civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.
• Palestinian combatants did not always adequately distinguish themselves from he civilian population and they unnecessarily exposed civilians to danger when they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings.
• The Fact-Finding Mission found no evidence that Palestinian armed groups directed civilians to areas where attacks were launched or that they forced civilians to remain within their vicinity, nor that hospital facilities were used by the Hamas de-facto administration or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities, or that ambulances were used to transport combatants, or that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from within hospitals or UN facilities that were used as shelters.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.