Russia's FM to present proposal for treaty to prevent weaponization of outer space

The very useful Reaching Critical Will newsletter (a project of the Women’s international league for Peace and Freedom) is reporting that “During the 25 January plenary [of the Conference on Disamament in Geneva], Russian Ambassador Valery Loshchinin announced that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be visiting the CD in February to submit a proposal for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of outer space, the elements of which were ‘proposed by Russia and China together with a group of co-sponsors back in June 2002’. Loshchinin noted it would ‘constitute yet another multilateral measure in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and thus would be a real contribution to strengthening the NPT regime’. The story was picked up by Reuters, in an article that explained the proposal has been circulated to some senior diplomats. Donald Mahley, acting US deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, reportedly said, ‘We see nothing in the new proposal to change the current U.S. position…. Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies’. While the proposals is not yet available to the public, it is said to be based on previous joint statements and working papers made by Russia and China in the CD”. For the texts, see the Reaching Critical Will CD archives here.

Jerusalem on the third day of a three-day snow storm

The sun came out, briefly, today …

So, Ghaleb went out again to take more pictures (with his brother Mohammed, and Mohammed’s son Haitham, 2 years old, whos arm has been in a cast for almost three weeks…)new-image-31-jan-7-dome-of-rock-and-al-aqsa.JPG

Out in Shuafat village, part of East Jerusalem, the snow is deeper:
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Jerusalem in the middle of a three-day snow storm

Here they are not really prepared for the snow — and while it can lift the spirits, it paralyzes the city.

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But our man on the spot, Ghaleb, got around, and managed to take this shot from the Mount of Olives of the Old City and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (with the golden Dome of the Rock).

Israeli Supreme Court upholds sanctions against Gaza

In a devastating blow, the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld the government’s decision to tighten fuel cuts and to inaugurate graduated electricity cuts to the Gaza strip. The new and deeper sanctions are to start on 7 February.

Although the ruling is disappointing — and life-threatening — it is not surprising.

The Israeli High Court of Justice rarely, if ever, goes against Israeli military decisions.

The fact that this ruling is being handed down just hours before the release of the final version of the Winograd Committee’s evaluation of Israel’s Second War in Lebanon (12 July -14 August 2006) means that it may get somewhat lost in the media frenzy. Calls for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for “early” elections, and speculation about what a change of government will mean for the Annapolis-launched Israeli-Palestinian “final status” negotiations will all overwhelm the news from the Supreme Court.

Lawyers from the ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations who have been petitioning the Supreme Court to block these sanctions were not optimistic after Sunday’s hearing (see post below).

They said on Sunday that they will simply go back to court and keep trying.

Sari Bashi, director of GISHA, commented after the ruling that “The petitioners had claimed that cutting fuel and electricity supplies constitutes forbidden collective punishment and violates the international law prohibition against deliberately targeting civilians … At the last hearing held Sunday, Jan. 27, Israel ‘ s military prevented utility officials from Gaza from attending the hearing, in violation of a previous commitment to the court. The state attorneys offered oral testimony by a military official, unsubstantiated by affidavit as required, claiming that the cuts would not harm humanitarian needs”.

Bashi said: ‘This is an unprecedented decision authorizing collective punishment in its most blatant form. The court ruling relies on unsubstantiated declarations by the military and ignores the indisputable and well-documented evidence of harm to civilians caused by the fuel and electricity cuts – with no legally valid justification’.

Hassan Jabarin, Director of Adalah, said after the ruling that: ‘According to the Supreme Court’s decision, it is permitted to harm Palestinian civilians and create a humanitarian crisis for political reasons. This constitutes a war crime under international criminal law‘.”
Gisha and Adalah said jointly that: “This decision sets a dangerous legal precedent that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Palestinians in Gaza and deprive them of basic humanitarian needs, in violation of international law.”

Haaretz reported this evening that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who headed the three-judge panel presiding over the case, wrote in the ruling: “We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a murderous terror group that operates incessantly to strike the state of Israel and its citizens, and violates every precept of international law with its violent actions … during wartime, the civilian population is the first and central victim of the fighting, even when efforts are made to minimize the damage. Even within Israeli territory, in the age of terror attacks that has been going on for many years, the immediate and main victim is the civilian population. However, in the case of the attacks against Israel, the damage is not accidental, but rather a result of deliberate and frequent assaults on civilian populations which are aimed at harming innocent civilians. This is the difference between Israel – a democracy fighting for its life within the confines of the law – and the terrorist organizations trying to destroy it.” The Haaretz report on the ruling is here.

The AP reported that: “Israel will continue to supply some fuel and electricity, and the judges said those supplies would ‘fulfill the vital humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip at this time’. The court said Israel is ‘required to act against terror organizations in accordance with the norms of international law and abstain from deliberately harming the civilian population located in the Gaza Strip’ … Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said Wednesday’s decision ‘reflects the criminal, ugly face of the occupation’.” This AP report is posted here.

Meanwhile, this ruling also keeps pressure on Hamas, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in Egypt to discuss the breach in the border at Rafah. Abbas says he will not talk to Hamas until they give back Gaza. And Abbas says he wants to go back to the exact same November 2005 regime that previously governed the Rafah crossing. That November 2005 agreement was brokered by Condoleeza Rice, who has recently seemed more flexible than Abbas on what to do about the Rafah crossing now…

Winograd Committee final report

“A semi-military organization of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoyed full air superiority and size and technology advantages. The barrage of rockets aimed at Israel’s civilian population lasted throughout the war, and the IDF did not provide an effective response to it. The fabric of life under fire was seriously disrupted, and many civilians either left their home temporarily or spent their time in shelters. After a long period of using only standoff fire power and limited ground activities, Israel initiated a large scale ground offensive, very close to the Security Council resolution imposing a cease fire. This offensive did not result in military gains and was not completed. These facts had far-reaching implications for us, as well as for our enemies, our neighbors, and our friends in the region and around the world”.

“The decision made in the night of July 12th – to react (to the kidnapping) with immediate and substantive military action, and to set for it ambitious goals – limited Israel’s range of options. In fact, after the initial decision had been made, Israel had only two main options, each with its coherent internal logic, and its set of costs and disadvantages. The first was a short, painful, strong and unexpected blow on Hezbollah, primarily through standoff fire-power. The second option was to bring about a significant change of the reality in the South of Lebanon with a large ground operation, including a temporary occupation of the South of Lebanon and ‘cleaning’ it of Hezbollah military infrastructure”.

“…the way the original decision to go to war had been made; the fact Israel went to war before it decided which option to select, and without an exit strategy – all these constituted serious failures, which affected the whole war. Responsibility for these failures lay, as we had stressed in the Interim Report, on both the political and the military echelons. After the initial decision to use military force, and to the very end of the war, this period of ‘equivocation’ continued, with both the political and the military echelon not deciding between the two options: amplifying the military achievement by a broad military ground offensive, or abstaining from such a move and seeking to end the war quickly. This ‘equivocation’ did hurt Israel. Despite awareness of this fact, long weeks passed without a serious discussion of these options, and without a decision – one way or the other – between them. In addition to avoiding a decision about the trajectory of the military action, there was a very long delay in the deployment necessary for an extensive ground offensive, which was another factor limiting Israel’s freedom of action and political flexibility: Till the first week of August, Israel did not prepare the military capacity to start a massive ground operation. As a result, Israel did not stop after its early military achievements, and was ‘dragged’ into a ground operation only after the political and diplomatic timetable prevented its effective completion. The responsibility for this basic failure in conducting the war lies at the doorstep of both the political and the military echelons…”

“Israel did not use its military force well and effectively, despite the fact that it was a limited war initiated by Israel itself. At the end of the day, Israel did not gain a political achievement because of military successes; rather, it relied on a political agreement, which included positive elements for Israel, which permitted it to stop a war which it had failed to win. Continue reading “Winograd Committee final report”

Hungry (and poor) Haitians eat dirt cookies

This is front-line journalism: “A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered”.

The Associated Press article reports that these dirt cookies are “a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau. The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal”.

This AP report is posted here.

Analysis: Occupied or not, it's ok to target Gaza

Israel is one of the few countries on earth where most people still believe that Gaza is not occupied. We disengaged in 2005, Israelis say. What’s wrong with these people in Gaza?

OK, let’s just put aside Israel’s control of Gaza’s air and maritime space — generally regarded as sufficient proof in international law of occupation. Let’s even leave aside the more recently-developed critera of “effective control” — which does not require a constant military presence, or “boots on the ground”, but simply that a military can act at will within a territory — to establish that it is occupied.

Let’s look at just a few other facts: Why has Israel insisted (until now, and this is not clear at the moment…) that it must have some control including live real-time supervision of the crossing of all persons and personal goods through Rafah (shipments or large-scale movements of goods are not allowed to transit Rafah)? Why have Israeli military analyists insisted that allowing an additional 750 Egyptian “border police” at the Gaza border as part of their 2005 disengagement was such a big deal (Egyptian military forces are not allowed in the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula under the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt– and that it means for the first time Israel allowed third-party monitoring of any of Israel’s borders??? [Since the Rafah border was breached on 23 January with Hamas acquiescence, at least, there are reportedly now 20,000 Egyptian “security personnel” in the northern Sinai…]

The Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the PLO, state without any ambiguity that the West Bank and Gaza form a single territorial unit whose status cannot be unilaterally changed by either Israel or the PLO.
So, Israel has also insisted on maintaining the Oslo structures, including the 1994 Paris agreement on customs etc, with regard to Gaza — and its control of these structures have allowed Israel to impose economic sanctions against Gaza (1) along with the West Bank, after the Hamas electoral victory in 2006 and its joining a PA government; (2) even more so, on Gaza alone, after the Hamas rout of Fatah security forces in May 2007; and now (3) again even additionally more so after the 19 September declaration by the Israeli Cabinet that Gaza is a “hostile territory” or “enemy entity”, because of continued firing of “projectiles” from Gaza to Israeli territory.

As a result, Israel’s Ministry of Defense ordered cuts starting 28 October in fuel supplies delivered exclusively by a private Israeli company, Dor Alon, under a commercial contract with the Palestinian Authority (one type of fuel, the industrial diesel used only to run Gaza’s main power plant, is paid for by the European Union, while the other fuels are paid by the PA — and Israel’s Ministry of Finance takes the payments out of Palestinian tax and customs revenue collected and still partly withheld by Israel).

And starting on 7 February, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has informed the Israeli Supreme Court, they will go ahead with phased cuts of directly-supplied electricity from the Israel Electric Company, and again paid for by the PA, with the money being deducted “at the source” by Israel’s Ministry of Finance from PA accounts held by the Israeli Ministry of Finance.

Now, we have a slightly different new argument emanating from an Israeli “think tank”/advocacy organization, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This argument, written by Dr. Avi Bell, a member of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, and also a visiting professor at Fordham University, says it doesn’t matter whether or not Gaza is occupied (although the professor argues that it is not occupied), Israel’s actions in Gaza are fine, legal, and are even required under certain legal analyses — including the counter-terrorism conventions blithely passed by the UN after 9/11.

Professor Bell writes that “International law authorizes Israel to initiate military countermeasures in Gaza. If Gaza is seen as having independent sovereignty, Israel’s use of force is permissible on the grounds of self-defense. If Gaza is seen as lacking any independent sovereignty, Israel’s use of military force is permissible as in other non-international conflicts … Israel’s imposition of economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip is a perfectly legal means of responding to Palestinian attacks. Since Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or anything else with Gaza , or to maintain open borders, it may withhold commercial items and seal its borders at its discretion.
The bar on collective punishment forbids the imposition of criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another’s guilt. None of Israel’s actions involve the imposition of criminal-type penalties…”

The war crimes, he argues, are being committed by Palestinians in Gaza: “The fighting in Gaza has been characterized by the extensive commission of war crimes, acts of terrorism and acts of genocide by Palestinians”.

Israel, he argues, is required to act against Gaza: “International law requires states to take measures to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice, to prevent and punish Palestinian genocidal efforts, and to block the funding of Palestinian terrorist groups and those complicit with them”.

And, Professor Bell writes, “Israeli countermeasures have conformed with the requirements of international law” AND “Israeli attacks to date have abided by the rules of distinction and proportionality”.

He explains that “The rule of ‘distinction’ includes elements of intent and expected result: so long as one aims at legitimate targets, the rule of distinction permits the attack, even if there will be collateral damage to civilians. The rule of ‘proportionality’ also relies upon intent. If Israel plans a strike without expecting excessive collateral damage, the rule of proportionality permits it”.

Though it does not matter in his argument, Professor Bell explains, just for good measure, why he thinks Gaza is not occupied: “There is no legal basis for maintaining that Gaza is occupied territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention refers to territory as occupied where the territory is of a state party to the convention and the occupier ‘exercises the functions of government’ in the territory. Gaza is not territory of another state party to the convention and Israel does not exercise the functions of government in the territory“.

This report was received by email. However, it will be available soon, if it is not already, on the website here.

Poll: Most Israelis think Gaza sanctions are fine

Al-Jazeera’s website had this interesting bit of perspective ucked into a story about the relief convoy that Israeli activists tried to get into Gaza through the Erez passage (which is designed only for human traffic…):

“Ephraim Yaar, an academic and co-author of Tel Aviv University’s Peace Index which monitors Israeli public opinion, suggests that the national mood is one of support for the tightened seal of Gaza’s borders. ‘In terms of Sderot and other communities around the Gaza strip, people feel that something must be done about it and that the Israel government’s responsibility is to protect its citizens’, he said. Yaar said the Israeli public is sceptical about warnings of an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza where 80 per cent of the population depends on the UN for food aid. ‘They don’t believe that the situation in Gaza is as bad as is described’, Yaar said. While international newspapers reported on the severe consequences in Gaza of an Israeli fuel blockade and consequent closure of the electricity generator, Israeli media discussed whether the issue might have been manipulated and exaggerated by Hamas. Both Yaar and Eldar point out that UN reports do not hold much credibility among the Israeli public. The most recent Peace Index poll, earlier this month, reveals that 81 per cent of Israelis support increasing ‘the targeted killings’ of Palestinian fighters. And 65 per cent do not think that Israel should reach a ceasefire agreement with Hamas…” This Al-Jazeera story is posted here.

Interesting, however, that the Israeli public, and the Israeli Supreme Court, find the Israeli military and security services perfectly credible, even when they do not give any proof of their assertions that everything is fine in Gaza,
and information to the contrary is simply propaganda in a media war.

The Palestinians do not need so much electricity, the state attorney and the Ministry of Defense told the Court.

Sick Palestinians are dying regularly for lack of modern medical care in Gaza — but that is not a humanitarian crisis. They voted for Hamas, after all, the Israelis say (even if these particular people might not have voted for Hamas, or might not even be old enough to vote…)

And, when people die, theIsraeli military and security and High Court of Justice will simply say that was not the intention

Israel Supreme Court holds hearing on Gaza fuel cuts

It was if the events of last week in Gaza had not happened.

Lawyers from the ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups who have been trying to get Israel’s High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) to block military-ordered fuel cuts — and proposed electricity cuts — appeared in their black robes and argued earnestly about why Israel should not impose collective punishments on 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The state attorney smirked. IDF Col. Nir Press of the Office of (Israeli) Coordination of Government Affairs gave a briefing in which he explained that Qassams, being fired day after day from Gaza at the Israeli city of Sderot, and a missile fired recently at Ashkelon, justified the policy.

The three sitting judges expressed impatience with both sides — but issued an interim order, GISHA legal adviser Kenneth Mann said, telling the state to bring all its evidence to the court in the form of affadavits with precise information, such as who were the people who said the situation inside Gaza was ok, and which equipment was being fixed, and where.

Mann said that the judges appeared to believe that there was no humanitarian crisis if there were no physical injuries and casualties. “Gazans sitting in the cold and the dark for 12 hours or more at a time is not a humanitarian crisis for them”, he said. What about the sewage flooding? “The judges think the Gazans can just clean it up”, he replied.

Hassan Jabareen of ADALAH said after the hearing that the arguments presented by the state and the military in court “contradicts our affadavits” which contain clear and documented figures.

Fatmeh ‘Ajou of ADALAH said that “the state tried to avoid the fact that they can’t refute our explanations. They used shallow arguments, such as ‘the situation is not as the petitioners are saying’. The Court is now avoiding the fact that for the last three months civilians were used as objects, despite all the public statements [by Israeli military and government officials] about the punitive purposes of such sanctions. The whole treatment of Gaza is that there is a legal vacuum”.

‘Ajou added that the judges “didn’t want us to respond to the state argument that the opening of the crossing at Rafah meant that Israel no longer had responsibility for Gaza. Judge Beinisch told us ‘No, they are not claiming that yet, they might reconsider their legal argument”.

Sari Bashi of GISHA said that “We let the judges know that the state violated the request” for the appearance at the hearing of two Gaza professionals who are co-petitioners in the case, and who could have explained the technical details concerning the Gaza power plant and Gaza’s electricity-distributing company.

Dr. Rafiq Maliha, project manager of the Gaza Power Plant, and Engineer Nedal Toman, project manager of GEDCO, were informed that they would be given permits to participate in the Supreme Court hearing on Sunday. They arrived at the Erez terminal at 7 am. But, they said, they were not actually given the permits until the court session started at 10 am.

Despite their best efforts, and a frantic taxi ride from the Gaza border to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, the two Gazans arrived about 20 minutes after the hearing was concluded by the judges, who decided not to wait for their arrival.

The Court adjourned without a decision, despite the fact that the state informed the Court that the military would impose further cuts in ordinary diesel used to run stand-by generators and some vehicles, and in gasoline for cars — and would “reduce the electricity that Israel’s Electric Company sells directly to Gaza by 5% on three lines (a total of 1.5 MW), beginning February 7”.

The amount of industrial diesel fuel used by Gaza’s power plant to generate electricity would be stable, at the level decided on 10 January of 2.2 million liters per week — an amount that is nonetheless only two-thirds of the amount needed.

Bashi said that the state informed the court Gaza currently has an electricity deficit of 24%, and rolling blackouts across the Strip are as long as 12 hours per day in some areas. The electricity shortage has increased the dependence on diesel-powered generators – just as Israel cut diesel supplies. Without electricity and without diesel for back-up generators, Gaza ‘ s sewage treatment pumps and treatment plants are pumping as much as 40 million liters untreated sewage into the sea each day, and clean water supply has fallen by 30%. Hospitals have reduced services and denied care to non-urgent cases, as the power outages continue, and their fuel supplies run dangerously low.

Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility sent around a report on “the status of the water and wastewater assets as of Sunday 27th January, 2008 due to the lack of fuel and as a result of Gaza power plant limited amount of electricity (45 MW only) in the Gaza Strip. You will find some assets which are not operating, others they will shut down soon. It is interesting to highlight the following:

1. 40% of Gaza city wells are barely operating since there is intermittent electricity , no fuel in most of them or under voltage ( the decrease in water production is around 30%.
2. There is a fear of flood in sewage pump station 7B and 6A ( Al-Samer) tonight.
3. Three sewage pump stations and the Gaza wastewater treatment plant are dumping 40,000 m3 as raw sewage to the sea.
4. No treatment in the three wastewater treatment plants in Gaza Strip.
5. The level of the North Waste Water Treatment Plant has increased by 18 CM.
6. CMWU has received 9500 liters as an emergency support from UNRWA which were used in limited locations in Gaza City as shown in the attached table.
7. Most of the water and Wastewater Operation Vehicles have been stopped due to fuel shortage”.

Israeli Supreme Court to hold hearing on Sunday on fuel supply to Gaza

Haaretz reports this evening that “Israel’s defense establishment decided over the weekend to step up pressure on Hamas, the Islamist group controlling the Gaza Strip, and continue a total blockade of all crossings between Israel and the coastal territory. In the coming days, the needs of Gaza residents will be reexamined by Israel in efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis”. This comment is in a story posted here.

What does that mean? Is it a threat (of worse to come)? Or is it a promise (of some slight improvment in what will be allowed into Gaza)?

The Israeli Supreme Court has now granted a request submitted by ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations for an urgent hearing concerning this situation on Sunday 27 January at 10 am –and at least one Palestinian dealing with the crisis facing the Gaza power plant says he has been told he will be granted a permit to leave Gaza [!] to participate in the hearing in Jerusalem.

Gaza’s power plant is limping along in a state of utter uncertainty. It closed down last Sunday night at 20:00 due to lack of fuel, and Israeli Defense Ministry officials said that they would not approve any further fuel shipments unless there was a halt of firing of Qassams and other projectiles from Gaza.

After an international outcry, Israel resumed fuel deliveries on Tuesday, but assurances that Israeli officials gave to Palestinian officials at the time have not been carried out as promised, and the situation has been confusing and chaotic ever since.

The Gaza power plant powered up within half an hour of receiving fuel on Tuesday morning. Because Palestinian officials had been given assurances of “a continuous process” of fuel deliveries, the decision made to generate as much electricity as possible.

Rafiq Maliha, project manager at the plant in Gaza, said he had been instructed to operate two turbines at full loads, producing 65 MW.

The following day, however, it became apparent that nothing was assured, and a new decision was made to consume less fuel, and operate two turbines at only partial loads, generating only 45 MW of electricity since Wednesday.

So far, only 1,575,000 liters of fuel have been delivered since the power plant stopped producing electricity last Sunday night due to lack of fuel. Dr. Maliha reported in several phone interviews from Gaza that 765,000 liters of industrial fuel were delivered on Tuesday, 180,000 were delivered on Wednesday, 315,000 cubic liters arrived on Thursday, and another 315,000 liters arrived on Friday.

Had that Friday shipment not arrived, the power plant would have to shut down again within hours from now.

Perhaps the Israeli Defense Ministry will authorize delivery of 525,000 liters of fuel on Sunday, bringing the total amount up to the 2.1 million liters that had been promised by Sunday. But perhaps not — and if not, then the plant could operate only another day or two at the very most.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad AbuGheit is meeting Palestinian Authority (Ramallah) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad this evening, and will speak apparently separately with representatives of Hamas, in an effort to find a solution to the crisis at Rafah and the Egyptian-Gazan border.

Earlier today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said there would not be any contacts with Hamas until Gaza is returned to PA (Ramallah) control.

Abbas is scheduled to hold a meeeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday in which, Palestinians say, Abbas will ask that the Israeli seige on Gaza be lifted — and checkpoints in the West Bank removed. Abbas has also proposed opening PA coordination inside Gaza to work with Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli security at the established border crossings — even though there is a mysterious Palestinian presence that has resumed at Erez in recent weeks [See “A funny little secret” on Palestine-Mandate here.]

Abbas is then due to fly to Cairo to meet Mubarak.