The United States is Not Just a Bystander in Israel-Gaza Violence

U.S.-made Hellfire missile linked to killing of a child and three  medics in Gaza by Israeli forces during operation Cast Lead, January 4, 2009. (Photo Credit:  Amnesty International)

U.S.-made Hellfire missile linked to killing of a child and three medics in Gaza by Israeli forces during operation Cast Lead, January 4, 2009. (Photo Credit: Amnesty International)

This past week, Israel has been carrying out air strikes and other military operations that have resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, most of them civilians not directly participating in hostilities.

The U.S., as the largest foreign supplier of weapons, munitions, police equipment and devices, as well as training and techniques to Israel, bears a particular responsibility for the deployment of the weapons it provides.

Amnesty International is calling for a U.N.-mandated international investigation into violations committed on all sides amidst ongoing Israeli air strikes on Gaza and continuing volleys of indiscriminate rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups into Israel.  Amnesty is also calling for a UN-imposed comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups.


Hamas Must End the Death Penalty

Trapped between a crushing Israeli blockade and human rights violations at home, the 1.6 million Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip face many challenges in their daily lives.  In our 2012 Annual Report, Amnesty International catalogues the list, from a humanitarian crisis created by the Israeli blockade to detention and torture by Hamas security forces.

There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.

Meanwhile, Palestinian armed groups have used the Gaza Strip to fire indiscriminate rockets and mortars into southern Israel.  Daniel Viflic, aged 16, died in 2011 after a school bus in which he was travelling was struck by a missile fired from Gaza.

The latest news is that four Gaza Palestinians are facing execution after being given the death penalty by Hamas military and criminal courts.  There are reports that at least one of the four “confessed” to the crime of murder after being tortured.  The family of Na’el Jamal Qandil Doghmosh has stated that when they saw him after two months in prison, his nails had been torn out and there were burns and bruises on his body.


Gilad Shalit Marks Five Years Held In Secret By Hamas

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier held by the Hamas in Gaza as a bargaining chip to pressure Israel for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians detained in Israel. © Private

Corporal Gilad Shalit was only 19 years old when he was captured on June 25th 2006 by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas’s military wing.

He is 24 years old now.  On June 25th, it will be over five years since Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad’s parents, have been able to touch their son or speak to him directly – even by mail.  It has been nearly two years since they’ve even seen him on video or received any other proof of life.

“As the days go by, we begin to despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares … or whether he is even alive.”  (Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s father, addressing the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, July 6, 2009)


Israel's Campaign to Avoid Accountability for War Crimes Must be Rejected

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.


March 21st KEY Date in Human Rights Council for Gaza Conflict Victims

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.  It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st.  (See below).

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.

Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report.  The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.

This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators.  AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.

Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.

AI wants HRC members to know that AI members worldwide are expecting real results this time.


Israel Falling Short on the Gaza Blockade

The international community has been expected Israel to take steps to loosen the Gaza blockade ever since an attack on a flotilla resulted in the death of nine protestors.

The Israel response came today, and it wasn’t impressive.

More than half of Gaza's population are children.

Amnesty International believes the Gaza blockade imposes a collective punishment on 1.4 million Palestinians in clear violation of international law.  It must be completely lifted without delay.

The Israeli proposal fell far short of that.

“Any step that will help reduce the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to be welcomed, but Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Just as important as allowing goods into Gaza is allowing exports to leave Gaza, yet there is no mention of this in today’s announcement. Banning the vast majority of exports, raw materials and the movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza, and pushed its population into unemployment, poverty and dependency on aid agencies for survival.  These problems will not be solved while the blockade continues.”

The Israel announcement offered few details but stated that it promised to “liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza” and to expand entrance of construction materials for civilian use.

As always, the Israelis cited an ever-changing number of excuses to justify this violation of international law.  One cited today was the continued holding of captured Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, and indeed the Israelis are right to insist on Shalit’s safe return.  AI has repeatedly pressed Hamas authorities in Gaza to free him.

And Amnesty International has strongly condemned the firing of indiscriminate weapons by Palestinian armed groups into southern Israel as a violation of international law.  But the Israeli blockade, which limits goods, the movement of people, threatens appropriate medical treatment of the sick and injured and virtually banning exports, target the civilian population as a whole not the armed groups in particular.

“Any restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods into or out of Gaza must be proportionate and non-discriminatory,” Smart said.

The full Amnesty statement can be found here. A statement earlier this week criticizing shortcomings in Israel panel that will investigate the flotilla attack can be found here.

The US Needs to Ensure that the Israeli Siege of Gaza is Lifted

By Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser at Amnesty International
(Originally posted on Huffington Post)

Israel’s rejection of an international inquiry into its deadly raid on the Gaza-bound ship is deeply disappointing, if not surprising. Judging by precedent, Israel is unlikely to provide the effective, independent and impartial investigation required to ensure truth, justice and reparations for victims and their families. But the truth is the outcome of an inquiry is unnecessary to reach the conclusion that Israel must end its siege of Gaza now.

The blockade violates human rights and humanitarian law, and it is politically senseless. It is past time that the United States and Israel’s other allies press for its immediate end.

For three years, the population of the Gaza Strip has been suffering the debilitating effects of Israel’s blockade imposed when Israel decided to treat the area as a “hostile entity” after Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. With the stated aim of preventing rocket fire by militants and pressuring Hamas, the blockade instead punishes the civilians in the Gaza Strip by restricting a vast range of goods and products that have no possible military use.

The firing of indiscriminate rockets into Israeli towns by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups (which, since 2001, has killed some 16 civilians in Israel) deserves unequivocal condemnation. But Israel’s closure of Gaza goes well beyond its security needs, penning one and a half million Palestinians into a tiny strip of land and condemning hundreds of thousands to poverty and dependence. The sweeping scope of the blockade and statements by Israeli officials about its purpose make clear that this siege is being imposed as a form of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.


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.

The UN Votes on Goldstone Report — But Will It Act?

It’s been nearly four full months since the United Nations called upon both Israel and Palestinians to conduct independent and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law during the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza and Southern Israel.  These violations were reported upon in the so-called Goldstone Report. Amnesty International and the rest of the international community are still waiting for the two parties to give an adequate response.

Today (Feb. 26), the United Nations voted 98-7 with 56 countries absent to provide an additional five months for the parties to conduct these investigations.  To date, both Israel and Hamas have issued reports that fall woefully short of being effective and independent. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his response to the reports, found little to praise in them but unfortunately fell short of an assessment of whether they met the criteria set by the UN.

This disappointment gets to the crux of the matter.  There are powerful efforts to ensure that the Goldstone Report doesn’t get acted on.  Amnesty International believes the report is a means toward justice in a conflict in which the evidence suggests war crimes were committed.  And more importantly, in its insistence that all sides to the conflict be judged by a single international standard, it also provides a way toward a long-term sustainable peace in a region that hasn’t had it for nearly 75 years.

Today’s UN resolution contains the elements that AI is calling for, although AI had lobbied for the text to be more explicit in terms of the assessment required from the Secretary-General at the end of the five months.

But if the UN allows both parties to dither and shirk their international responsibilities, the vote will be meaningless.  It’s particularly disappointing that the United States was one of the seven negative votes today.  US support for the Goldstone report and process is essential to its effectiveness.

We want the United States and all members of the UN to support this resolution and provide some strength to a process that offers promise but which can easily be derailed.  The goal must be to have Israel and Palestine conduct credible and thorough investigations that are monitored by a UN-mandated body of legal experts.  And in five months down the road, if the parties have not done so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.  That would be an act with teeth.

ACT Now: Why the U.S. must listen to Goldstone

The United States is fast losing their credibility in the region and among Human Rights organizations and activists over our reluctance to support the recommendations contained in Justice Richard Goldstone’s report (pdf).

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.

US made Hellfire missile manufactured in Orlando, FL used in incident where two Palestinian medics and a child were killed.

See prior blog post for more details.

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.

Send a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice urging them to support the recommendations contained in Justice Richard Goldstone’s report.