Doubts Cast in Gilad Shalit/Palestinian Prisoner Swap

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.

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Palestinian Statehood Bid at UN and Its Implications

As you may have heard, Palestinian authorities have embarked on a major diplomatic effort to secure wider recognition of a Palestinian state and an upgraded status at the United Nations.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently submitted an application for full UN membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Palestine currently has the status of an observer entity at the UN General Assembly, where it is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  An application for full membership is currently being considered by the UN Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members.  The UN Committee will issue its analysis of the historic Palestinian bid for statehood around mid-October.

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Entire Blockade of Gaza Must Be Lifted

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.

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Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal, Despite Media Headlines

gaza turkey flotillaThe media has gone crazy these past couple of days announcing that the UN-appointed panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid last summer, known as the Palmer Commission, found that the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza is legal and that Israel used excessive force during the raid.

From the Jerusalem Post to the BBC, headlines scream that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal.  This is not only completely false, it distracts from the main point of the inquiry which was to determine if excessive use of force was used by Israeli forces during the raid on the flotilla in international waters and how to avoid a similar incident like this from happening again.

The contents of the Palmer Report were made public Thursday by the New York Times.  The report itself, which was completed last February, was being delayed at the UN while Turkey and Israel negotiated over language and played behind-the-scenes politics.

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The Freedom Flotilla, Civil Disobedience and Government Collusion

Greece has offered to deliver any humanitarian aid contained on Freedom Flotilla boats to Gaza through “existing channels”.  Israel as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have accepted this idea – except one thing – Greece’s offer misses the point.

In addition to the continuing humanitarian concerns, even after Israel’s ‘easing’ of restrictions and the recent ‘opening’ of the Rafah crossing by Egypt, there is the blockade itself.

Although this video was produced one year after operation ‘Cast Lead’ ended, former AI researcher, Francesca Burke, speaks about the difficulties in getting in materials to rebuild and recover from the devastation of the military conflict as well as the blockade which still holds true and relevant today.

Even if all the humanitarian needs of the population were relieved, the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade would still violate the Gazans’ basic human rights.

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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)

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Obama Speech: Will The Real Action Be For Civil Society?

President ObamaWatching President Obama deliver a major speech today on the Middle East is a reminder that even major speeches go only so far: It’s what follows them that really counts.

Certainly there was something to like about some of the rhetoric: Obama specifically pointed to the government of Bahrain, a US ally, and told it to embrace political change and to release political prisoners. “You can’t have dialogue when parts of peaceful opposition are in jail,” he said.

Likewise, his call for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders could shake up failed negotiations.

But the rhetoric on human rights and democracy was strong two years ago when the president spoke in Cairo.  To many human rights activists in the region, the Obama Administration has spent the past two years failing to live up to that rhetoric in the region and being behind the curve of the Arab Spring.

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What Will Obama Say To Muslim World?

After months of relative silence, President Obama will formally address the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring in a speech on Thursday May 19 at 11:30 am[ET].  His speech will stream live on CNN and C-Span, both in the US and internationally. Following the announcement of Syrian sanctions Wednesday, Obama is slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

At his speech tomorrow, Obama will articulate the US position on recent democratic movements throughout the Middle East, focusing on Libya and Egypt sources say, but will likely avoid details. He is also likely to mention the tumult in Syria, following US sanctions placed upon Syrian President Bashar Assad on May 18th.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney would not give details on whether the president will address the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Sources like the Guardian speculate that this speech will be similar in tone to Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009. At that point early in his presidency, Obama strove to make amends for past aggressive US foreign policies in the Middle East. This time around, he’s expected to explain his administration’s restrained involvement in the MENA region’s affairs.

What will President Obama say to the Muslim World tomorrow?  Will he address the ongoing human rights violations in the region?  See our site for full coverage on human rights in the Middle East.  And follow us on Twitter @amnesty for our comments during the speech.

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.

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Human Rights on Several Fronts in Israel/PNA

Today begins a monumental week for human rights in Israel and the Palestine National Authority on several fronts.

Over the course of the next few days, in Israel, legislators will begin debate a draft of a law that would put asylum-seekers and migrants at risk for being returned to countries where they would face serious human rights violations. The United Nations will receive the secretary-general’s report on Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from December 2008 to January 2009. And in the United States, a congressional letter is circulating asking Representatives to press for immediate relief of the citizens of Gaza.

That’s a lot of activity, and at a time of significant international interest in the region, Amnesty International hopes that it will lead to a renewed focus on human rights issues as the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

To take the various actions of the week one at a time:

* The Israeli Knesset will begin discussion Feb. 3 on the Prevention of Infiltration Law.  The legislation comes out of a current crisis, particularly on the Egyptian border, where refugees from human rights violations – primarily the Sudan and Eritrea – are attempting to reach safety by entering Israel in large numbers. In recent years, large numbers have been forcibly returned to Egypt, where they are at risk of both human rights violations and of being forcibly returned to their country of origin.

Amnesty International is concerned that the draft legislation prescribes lengthy prison sentences for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants and would allow for their immediate deportation, without regard to the risk they might face of torture or other ill-treatment or persecution in the country to which they would be forcibly returned.  We believe the legislation is inconsistent with international human rights treaties and we call about the Knesset to reject the draft law and ensure that any immigration or national security provisions that are introduced into law fully respect Israel’s international human rights obligations.  Click here for more information.

* This past November, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the findings of the Goldstone Report, which concluded that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, during the three week conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.  Both groups were required to conduct domestic investigations into the allegations and submit reports back to the United Nations in early February.

Amnesty International has called upon both Israel and Hamas to fulfill their obligations in these investigations.  We attempted to ensure both sides conducted their investigations with the required independence, impartiality, transparency and effectiveness. If the reports fail on these accounts, Amnesty expects that the United States and other UN member states will fulfill their responsibility to monitor the investigations.

Feb. 2 update: Amnesty has just issued this release condemning the Israeli response to the Gaza investigations.

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