Here we go again – General closure announcements

Here we go again – received by email from the Israel Defense Forces:

General Closure of Judea and Samaria Region [the West Bank] during the Jewish New Year

In accordance with Ministry of Defense directives and in light of security assessments, a general closure of Judea and Samaria will commence tonight, September 28th, 2008 at midnight. The lifting of the closure will be carried out on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 at midnight, in accordance with security assessments.

For the duration of the closure, the passage of those in need of humanitarian and medical aid will be authorized by the District Coordination and Liaison offices. Entry of senior Palestinian officials, doctors, medical personnel, lawyers and families of arrested Palestinians on their way to courts, religious workers, teachers, NGO members and additional professional groups will also be authorized at the discretion of the DCO.

The IDF regards the Jewish New Year as a highly sensitive time. Accordingly, the IDF will increase its alertness in order to ensure the safety of the citizens of Israel , while preserving, to the best of its ability, the daily life of the Palestinian population“.

Night of Power – Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Laylat al-Qadr at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem

The crowds at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Crowd control at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

A friend, who took these pictures, wrote me that “I can estimate more than 500,000 [people — possibly a record] were there tonight, from all over the country, even from Jordan. Everybody was extremely happy to be there, people would share the checkpoint experience but overall are happy to make it to the mosque. Many teams were on the floor to help people reach the different facilities and separate men and women, other teams were deployed to give medical assistance. One man from the Old City was giving free “Hamra and Baida” (in English red and white) a famous desert from Jerusalem. The Old City streets were busy and overloaded with people, till after midnight…

NOW, how did these people get there? There were flying checkpoints all over East Jerusalem.
People who arrived in East Jerusalem cars parked wherever they could – and even where they couldn’t.
It is a mystery where all these people, who willingly underwent great stress and hardship, some coming from the far reaches of the West Bank and passing through serial checkpoints, were able even to go to the bathroom, or to wash afterwards before prayers — facilities were severely limited, or lacking.

People got through on good will, and by spiritual uplift.

And those who came from the West Bank through the infamous Qalandia “border crossing” checkpoint, well, they went through a lot, and that’s a huge understatement.

Here are photos courtesy of Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch, who observed the passage of Palestinians through Qalandia. She told me that “The control was very strict, and it was very tense, very tense, but it didn’t come to shooting or stones. Instead, the army every time just took the young men to the military vehicles inside the checkpoint, and they just disappeared. That’s what happened to the shebab“, she said. She added that “it was very sad to see all those people coming such long distances, from Jenin, and everywhere, and then some being turned away…it was very ugly the way they were treated, like cattle, having to pass through one point for checking to another”.

Women lined up at Qalandia to cross to Jerusalem for Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Man blindfolded and being detained in sterile zone at Qalandia - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Young man blindfolded and being detained at Qalandia on the last Friday in Ramadan 2008

Blindfolded and detained young man being led away - to where - on last Friday in Ramadan 2008

James Weatherill of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that it had been very crowded — the most crowded Friday of Ramadan to date. “The IDF did take our recommendation to open up a humanitarian lane”, he said, “but they didn’t manage it well. At one point, they were letting only those with Jerusalem ID use the humanitarian lane, but we managed to get it back. We had 15 volunteers from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society helping us. However, we would often have to wade into the crush of the crowd when we saw people having trouble, to pick them out and help them get through to the humanitarian lane”. The humanitarian cases were defined as anybody having any difficulty walking, or blind, or with heart conditions (documented), or over the age of 70.

IDF increases West Bank roadblocks 3% in last six months, UN says

Next week [26 September], the Quartet will meet at the United Nations in New York. Will they discuss this just-issued UN-OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report)???

Even the Jerusalem Post writes this: “The IDF has increased the number of West Bank roadblocks by three percent in the last six months, according to a UN report cited by Israel Radio on Sunday. The report stated that there were currently 630 roadblocks in the West Bank, around a third of them manned. It also said that some three fifths of the West Bank security fence had been completed and that 80% of it had been constructed east of the Green Line“. This article can be viewed here.

The full OCHA report can be read here.

The report states:”Overall, the freedom of movement of Palestinians within the West Bank and East Jerusalem remained highly constrained and neither territorial contiguity nor the pre-2000 status quo was restored” [n.b., these are Roadmap requirements] …

OCHA also reports that: “In its latest survey of the West Bank and East Jerusalem on September 2008, OCHA observed 630 obstacles blocking Palestinian movement, including 93 staffed [n.b., this is a rather dry and bureaucratic description — these “staffers” hold weapons in their hands, and sometimes, even when things are quiet, and they are bored, they even point them at people] and 537 unstaffed obstacles (earthmounds, roadblocks, barriers, etc.). This figure represents a net increase of 3.3%, or 20 obstacles, compared to the figure reported at the end of the previous reporting figure on 29 April 2008″[n.b., since the Annapolis process began]. This total does not include 69 obstacles in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron City (H-2), nor 8 checkpoints located on the Green Line [n.b., why not?]. Additionally, the weekly average of random (‘flying’) checkpoints increased by about 10% compared to the first four months of 2008 (85 vs. 77)”.

The report continues: “The number of obstacles at any one time is indicative of the access situation, but does not capture the full picture of the system of obstacles and restrictions. There is a whole range of measures including the Barrier [n.b. while I appreciate the capital B here, why does OCHA not call it The Wall, to follow the example set by the UN’s highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice?], restricted roads, permit system, age and gender restrictions, and closed areas, which layered upon each other, consolidate into a comprehensive system fragmenting the West Bank and East Jerusalem”.

OCHA continues, very drily,: “The Barrier plays a very significant role in this system … separating Palestinians from their land and creating enclaves isolated to some extent from the rest of the West … During the reporting period the GOI [Government of Israel] continued investing in transportation infrastructure throughout the West Bank [n.b. territory that the GOI occupies, and to which it does not hold title …] An Israeli military expert estimated the cost of constructed and planned and ‘fabric of life roads’ and Barrier gates at 2 billion NIS. Extensive works were also being carried out to expand and renovate key checkpoints…”

In the last paragraph of this report, OCHA says that “In reflecting on more than seven years of restrictions, what was once a short-term Israeli military response to violent confrontations and attacks on Israeli civilians has developed into an entrenched multi-layered system of obstacles and restrictions, fragmenting the West Bank territory and affecting the freedom of movement of the entire Palestinian population and its economy. This system is transforming the geographical reality of the West Bank and Jerusalem towards a more permanent territorial fragmentation”.

So, where is Condoleezza Rice? Where is UNSG BAN Ki-Moon? Where is Tony Blair?

Military Zone - anyone entering or damaging the fence endangers his life

And, shall I just remind you that my residential neighborhood, full of lovely houses and gardens and where the World Bank has its offices and where there are two prestigious private schools, and which is now officially or unoffically annexed to Jerusalem by The Wall [or what OCHA calls a Barrier], is still a “MILITARY ZONE” [NOT closed, or operational, or anything like that — just a military zone] where “ANYONE WHO ENTERS — or damages the fence [SIC !] — ENDANGERS HIS LIFE”.

And, therefore, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the CHECKPOINT is still there — and not only that, it has changed from one to three lanes, and the lines are longer than ever, and it usually takes 25 minutes to pass through — under gun point, of course.

UPDATE: There are hardly ever fewer than ten to twenty cars waiting to get through this checkpoint at any given time, day or night. Today, there were huge trucks waiting in line — and trucks were never before allowed to pass through the checkpoint going in the direction of downtown Jerusalem. And, there were three extremely rude and bad drivers who cut in line in places ahead of me, as I waited nearly 35 minutes to get through this afternoon. I called Smolik, a checkpoint liaison person with the Border Police who has sometimes helped before. At least, he’s someone to register a complaint with — the worst thing is to feel so much at the mercy of this awful situation, with no procedures that are clear (except total and unconditional submission), and no redress. So, complaining to Smolik makes it seem as if one is regaining a little bit of dignity in one’s life, even if it rarely ever results in any improvement. He said today, however, that he was unaware that all kinds of other traffic was now passing through this checkpoint — he said he thought it was still just for the residents of this area!!

Ramadan nights – Ramadan lights

Now we’re entering the period of the last ten days of the month of Ramadan – a time of heightened spirituality, combined with intensive preparations for the three-day feast at the end of the month, Eid al-Fitr.

Ramadan Kariim lights.

There are definitely many more Ramadan lights than last year, and than past years — it seems the lights bought in the previous years have been kept, and then some new ones have been purchased this year and added, too.

Ramadan lights in the Old City of East Jerusalem

Qatayif on sale in East Jerusalem's Old City during Ramadan nights

Ramadan lights in Jerusalem's Old City

UPDATE – December 2010:  The National Children’s Museum in Washington D.C. has asked to use the last photo above, and some others I sent them, in a forthcoming exhibit and binder of photos to be displayed in their “Launch Zone”.  When this news arrived, the person who took these photos — who originally asked not to have his name posted — has changed his mind, both for the National Childrens Museum’, and for this blog.   Therefore, I am now at liberty to thank Ghaleb Mashni for taking these great shots for me.

Third Friday in Ramadan – no disturbances

Mercifully, there were reportedly no “disturbances” on the third Friday in Ramadan, as some 150,000 (according to the Jerusalem Post) to 200,000 souls (according to Ma’an News Agency) managed to make their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem for prayers. They came from East Jerusalem itself, from the Arab communities in Israel (particularly in the north), and — with great and greater degrees of hardship — from the West Bank

However, there were many more who did not make it. Dozens prayed on the asphalt at the outside of the Israeli military perimeter established around the entrance from the Ramallah side to the major Qalandia crossing from the West Bank to Jerusalem. A heavy-set Israeli Border Policeman in riot gear stood on a large concrete block directly in front of the prayer leader, frontally facing the bowing worshippers in a domineering posture

One eyewitness said that the Haram As-Sharif mosque esplanade was “really loaded, but could take another 200’000”.

According to this eyewitness, the Border Police in the Old City of East Jerusalem were on good behavior, and the public transportation was better organized.

It was also cooler – a definite hint of autumn in the air.

Israeli Border Police in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque on the third Friday in Ramadan

Prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the third Friday in Ramadan

Crowds on third Friday in Ramadan

Tutu: "It is the silence of the international community … (concerning Gaza) … which most offends"

As he was presenting his final report on killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli mortar shelling in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, in November 2006, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday that “What we saw in Gaza shocked us…the psychological injuries are more than the physical”.

Tutu also said that “in our view, increasing the accountability of the Israeli military for its actions is the most effective means to protect Palestinian civilians against any further … assaults”.

And Tutu called the Israeli military-administered blockade against the Gaza Strip “unjust and illegal”.

He concluded with this strong reproach. “The international is failing to fulfill its role in respect of the suffering of the people of Gaza. It is the silence of the international community in the face of what is happening there which most offends. This silence begets complicity. In our efforts to discharge our mandate, we have witnessed positions based on political objectives rather than on principle — by all relevant parties … Addressing human rights violations suffered by individuals in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory must be the prime motivating force for members of the [Human Rights] Council and others with influence in the region.”

Israeli response to Tutu Mission to investigate deaths of 19 civilians in Novembe 2006 IDF shelling of Beit Hanoun, Gaza

Israel on three occasions over nearly two years declined to give a visa for the mission authorized by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the civilian deaths caused, the Israeli military says, by “technical error” in the IDF’s November 2006 shelling of the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

So, now let’s look at what the final report of the mission led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu says about Israel’s response. Here are some excerpts from the report:

“A total of 19 of the Beit Hanoun victims died as a result of the shelling. Two of the greatest needs of the surviving victims are a credible explanation for the attack on the town, and, where appropriate, the holding of individuals to account for the attack. In the mission’s view, neither of these needs have been met … The victims of the shelling are persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights as a result of the shelling; they include the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization. The mission notes that there has been no systematic follow-up of the situation of victims to assess their progress, their ongoing medical or other needs”.

“Following the shelling, the Prime Minister and Minister for Defense of Israel ‘expressed their regret over the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun’ and offered ‘urgent humanitarian assistance and immediate medical care for the wounded’. The Israeli military similarly expressed regret but stressed that ‘the responsibility for this rests with the terror organizations, which use the Palestinian civilian population as a ‘human shield’, carrying out terror attacks and firing Kassam rockets at Israeli population centres from the shelter of populated areas’. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that ‘unfortunately, in the course of battle, regrettable incidents such as that which occurred this morning do happen’.

“On 8 November 2006, Israel announced an inquiry into the shelling of Beit Hanoun earlier that day, intimating that the shells were not fired on civilian areas of Beit Hanoun intentionally but rather as a result of some technical error. Use of artillery in Gaza was halted pending the outcome of an investigation. It has been reported to the Mission that artillery has not been used in Gaza since 8 November 2006. [n.b., what is meant by “artillery”? Would it include the firing by an Israeli tank of shells packed with “flechettes” or razor-sharp darts, such as the one that killed Reuters cameraman Fadel Shani in Gaza

The report continues. “The Israeli military appointed an internal investigation committee of military staff headed by a senior officer. Some 15 months after the shelling, the committee presented its findings to the Military Advocate General, who then decided that ‘no legal apction is to be taken against any military official regarding this incident’. According to a press communiqué issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the reasons for this decision were that:
(a) The shelling of civilians was not intentional;
(b) The error was ‘directly due to a rare and severe failure in the artillery fire-control system operated at the time of the incident’ causing ‘incorrect range findings that lead, unknowingly, to fire at a different target then planned initially’;
(c) The malfunction was so rare that ‘it is not possible to point to a legal circumstantial connection, between the behaviours of the people involved in the incident and the result of the incident’.

Neither the report of the committee nor that of the Advocate General has been made public. The mission requested copies of both on a number of occasions, but these requests remain unanswered. The mission finds this lack of transparency for a process that is in effect to date the only means for accountability for the deaths of 19 civilians, highly disturbing.

“The Israeli military appears to be of the view that, if an error is caused by malfunctioning technology, there can be no causal link (and thus no responsibility) on the part of individuals, be they designing, building or operating the technology. The Mission also notes that press reports of the investigation quote military sources as suggesting that ‘it would be worthwhile to look into whether the artillery battery team could have nonetheless avoided the incident through more proper performance, and careful monitoring of the equipment’. This proposal is strengthened by the reported recommendations of the investigation, one being to require ‘human tracking of where shells are falling in addition to the radar’.

“According to a number of sources, the Israeli military version of events on 8 November 2006 is as follows: On or at some time prior to 8 November, the military received information that rocket launching would take place from a field near Beit Hanoun. ‘In an effort to disrupt and thwart the launching of rockets at Israeli population centers’, Israeli artillery directed twenty-four 155 mm shells at two targets near Beit Hanoun. In the military’s view, artillery shelling of a site of potential rocket launching is an effective deterrent. The first 12 shells landed in the correct location, however 6 of the second round landed 450 metres away from their intended target and resulted in the civilian casualties.

“This view is in conflict with the information received by the mission. Numerous sources show that 12 shells hit the area around Hamad Street, possibly 13. The mission received no evidence of shelling in a field near Beit Hanoun before the shelling, which resulted in casualties. Indeed testimonies indicate that, just before the shelling, the majority of Beit Hanoun residents were sleeping or at prayer, which would have been quite abnormal if heavy artillery fire had been directed just 450 metres away from the residential area. Furthermore, investigations carried out by the explosive ordnance disposal unit of the Palestinian Police and presented to the mission suggest that six 155 mm artillery shells were fired from a location to the east of Beit Hanoun, and another six from a separate location to the south-east, suggesting the attack was not conducted from one single artillery battery, as reported by the Israeli military, but two.

“Victims and survivors interviewed by the mission are seeking an explanation for the shelling, a common refrain being ‘why did this happen to us?’ Many expressed doubts as to claims that they had been shelled in error. More than one remarked that they ‘could believe one shell fired in error but not 12’. Others indicated that the level of Israeli monitoring of Beit Hanoun (including by unmanned aerial drones as witnessed by the mission) is such that an error of this magnitude is highly unlikely. Yet another survivor juxtaposed the alleged 450-metre error in the Beit Hanoun shelling with the precision with which the Israeli military carry out targeted assassinations in the occupied Palestinian territories. Others noted that an error of 450 metres would have placed Israeli soldiers at the nearby Erez crossing at risk of shelling, a risk survivors felt the Israeli military would not take.

The mission strongly endorses the position put forward by others, particularly human rights organizations, that the use of artillery in urban areas, especially in densely populated urban settings such as Gaza, is wholly inappropriate and likely contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. The risks of this practice were compounded by the reported reduction by the Israeli military of the ‘safety zone’ for artillery shelling from 300 to 100 metres earlier in 2006. The 155 mm artillery shells fired on Beit Hanoun have an expected lethal radius of 50 to 150 metres and a casualty radius of up to 300 metres. Firing such a shell within 100 metres of civilians appears to the mission almost certain to cause casualties at one time or another. In litigation by human rights groups against the safety-zone reduction, it was reported that Israeli military officers ‘admitted that the new regulations put Palestinian lives at risk but insisted it would help strike back at Palestinian militants launching rockets at Israeli civilians’…”

According to an AP report published in Haaretz yesterday, the day the final Tutu report was published, “Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, refused to discuss the war crimes allegation because Israel rejects the validity of Tutu’s report … Leshno-Yaar said he was furious that Tutu’s report de facto legitimizes Hamas control of Gaza … But Leshno-Yaar said Israel’s own investigation into the incident that found that hitting civilians was accidental was sufficient. He noted that the results had been shared with the United Nations. ‘There is no need for such a mission by the Human Rights Council and by Archbishop Tutu’, he said”. The full story can be read in Haaretz here.

Tutu final report on Beit Hanoun – the "depth of human suffering is only partially conveyed through the third-party reports"

“The mission wishes to underline the importance of its travelling to Beit Hanoun to witness first-hand the situation of victims and survivors of the shelling, in particular to comprehend the deep distress of the victims of the shelling and of the population generated by the ongoing blockade. This depth of human suffering is only partially conveyed through the third-party reports on the situation.”

Here are the bare-boned facts:
1. Israeli military operations were carried out in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun “around 8 November 2006”.
2.)The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 15 November 2006 calling for a high-level fact-finding mission to be established and for the mission to travel to the town of Beit Hanoun.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was appointed to lead the mission.
3.) “On three occasions, the mission attempted to travel to Beit Hanoun via Israel. Each of these attempts was frustrated by the refusal of the Government of Israel to cooperate with the mission”…
4.) In May 2008. the mission actually made a two-day trip to Beit Hanoun — travelling from Egypt in and out of the otherwise closed Rafah Crossing into Gaza — in May 2008.
5.) The mission made its final report to the UN Human Rights Council on 15 September 2008.

The mission’s final report stated that “Gaza is under the effective control of Israel and is thus occupied by it … The mission also witnessed the constant surveillance of Gaza by Israeli forces, most strikingly from unmanned aerial drones”…

The report stated that “the events preceding the shelling on 8 November (in particular the incursion of 1 to 7 November – n.b. this incursion was named ‘Autumn Clouds’, and focussed on Beit Hanoun ) had a direct and negative impact on the situation of victims and survivors of the shelling. The control exercised by the Israeli military over inhabitants was reaffirmed. Inhabitants of Beit Hanoun lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety and were traumatized by the deaths and injuries they witnessed, the destruction of property and the uncertainty as to what would occur next”…

The mission’s final report gives this graphic description of what happened: “The shelling took place early on the morning of Wednesday, 8 November 2006, some 24 hours after the Israeli military withdrew from the town and concluded operation Autumn Clouds. Residents of Beit Hanoun, including the Al-Athamna family, were returning to normal life after the trauma of the incursion. Those interviewed by the mission spoke of the night of 7 November as being the first time they and their children could again ‘get a proper night’s sleep’. Another survivor noted that it was the first night she could bake bread. Another noted that it was the first time he could rise and pray at the mosque rather than at home. At approximately 5.35 a.m., the first 155 mm shell from Israeli artillery hit a house in the heavily populated neighbourhood of al-Madakkha in northern Beit Hanoun. Over the following 30 minutes or so, a total of 12 shells struck an area of approximately 1.5 hectares along the western side of Hamad Street, which lies around 800 metres from the armistice line. The shells struck six houses as well as surrounding areas in Hamad Street and lanes between houses. Six shells fell on an area of 50 metres in diameter. The mission saw the extensive damage caused by the shells, including holes blasted through reinforced concrete walls and floors, and blast damage to surrounding buildings. Amateur video footage obtained by the mission shows the last three shells landing with intervals of around one minute and 15 seconds. The victims of the shelling were either asleep in their homes or, as was the case with a number of the men, returning from morning prayer. Following the first shell, which hit a house killing and injuring people inside, most residents fled to the street. Once in the street, people congregated to assist those who had been injured. More shells then landed in the street and surrounding lanes, killing and injuring dozens more. A number of survivors ran into surrounding fields. Others indicated running towards the nearby Erez crossing, believing that the Israeli installation there would offer safety. The testimony received by the mission paints a horrific scene. Woken by the first shell, families fled their homes and assembled in the street outside, where dead and injured persons already lay. One mother described being faced with one of her children with an open skull wound while trying to help another son as he scooped his intestines back into his abdomen. Another spoke of helping his injured father to the door of the house, only for him to be killed by a direct shell at the door. As people gathered and attempted to provide assistance to the injured, more shells landed in the street. There was, according to one witness, ‘no one left standing’. The nature of injuries caused by artillery shells meant the street was ‘strewn with limbs’. Children were decapitated and a mother worries for her surviving son who ‘saw his brother cut in half’. Some time after the first shell landed, the injured started to arrive by private vehicle at the Beit Hanoun hospital, most having lost limbs or requiring amputation. Within a short amount of time, 30 to 40 injured people arrived at the hospital. The director of the hospital declared an emergency and called for ambulances from across Gaza to assist. The first ambulance to reach the scene of the shelling itself came under fire, the driver and assistant being forced to abandon the vehicle. Footage obtained by the mission of the scene in Beit Hanoun hospital as casualties from the shelling arrived showed an extremely disturbing scene of a small hospital crowded with medical staff, victims with blast injuries and their families. Medical staff interviewed by the mission described not only the trauma in dealing with the onslaught of casualties, but also of their exhaustion following their efforts during the Autumn Clouds incursion, as described above. The shelling resulted in the immediate death or mortal wounding of 19 civilians, including seven children and six women. All but one of the victims were from a single family group, the Al-Athamna. Over 50 others were wounded during the attack”.

In an earlier section, the report stated that “During the incursion (n.b. during the week before the deadly shelling), Israeli military personnel occupied houses in Beit Hanoun for hours at a time, including the house of the Al-Athamna family, which was occupied twice; first for four hours, the second time for six. ‘They knew who slept in each room, they knew it was a family home’, reported one witness”.

The report continues: “A number of the more seriously injured required treatment that could not be provided in Gaza. Families of the injured ran directly to the Erez crossing to plead for Israeli approval to transport injured people to Israeli hospitals. According to survivors, approval to move some injured to Israeli hospitals was received only some 12 hours after the shelling. Survivors told how significant obstacles were placed in the way of individuals travelling to Israel for emergency treatment, in particular: (a) The refusal by Israeli authorities in some cases to allow the injured to be accompanied by family members. This was particularly distressing in the case of the elderly and children who travelled without their closest relatives; (b) The refusal by Israeli ambulances to transport the injured from Erez crossing to Israeli hospitals without an immediate payment of some thousands of shekels. These fees were later reimbursed by the International Committee of the Red Cross”.

The mission report also notes that “In addition to the special session of the Council at which resolution S-3/1 was adopted, on 30 November 2006, the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/16, in which it deplored Israeli military assaults on the Gaza Strip, in particular the killing of many Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission on the attack. The fact-finding mission has never been conducted”.

And, the mission report states, “the mission saw no evidence of any necessity for the shelling of Beit Hanoun on 8 November and certainly none that the need for such an attack was ‘instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation’. The fact that the Israeli military had been in almost full control of Beit Hanoun in the days prior to the attack only reinforces this argument…[T]he use of force with an impact on civilians is permissible if it is directed at a legitimate military target and is proportionate to the overall threat faced. The mission received no evidence that the shelled area of Beit Hanoun was a legitimate military target and notes that it had been occupied by Israeli military earlier in the week…The firing of artillery towards Beit Hanoun on the morning of 8 November 2006 was a deliberate act in the context of the long-term occupation of Gaza and of the deaths of civilians and destruction of property in Autumn Clouds. Taken together with further facts (such as the reduction of the safety zone for artillery use referred to above) and the nature of the ‘intransgressible obligation'” to protect civilian life, the mission considers that there is evidence of a disproportionate and reckless disregard for Palestinian civilian life, contrary to the requirements of international humanitarian law and raising legitimate concerns about the possibility of a war crime having been committed…The investigation of the Israeli military referred to above was not independent (it was carried out by a committee comprised of Israeli military personnel) and the lack of transparency makes it impossible to determine whether or not it was rigorous or effective. The failure of Israel to comply with the procedural requirement adds to the frustration and anger felt by survivors, who have received no credible explanation for what occurred. Survivors have come to perceive the rule of law as having no meaning for them…The Israeli military internal investigation referred to above concluded that there would be no prosecutions of individuals or other disciplinary action arising from the shelling; therefore, no one has been held to account for the injuries suffered. A further recent example involving the killing of a media cameraman and eight youths reinforces the culture of impunity decried by the mission in its previous report…An Israeli law preventing Palestinians from claiming compensation from Israel following military operations was partially struck down by the High Court on 12 December 2006. However, the court left standing a provision that bars compensation to Palestinians harmed in combat operations.”

Among its conclusions, the report says that the 8 November 2006 attack on Beit Hanoun “took lives, inflicted horrendous physical and mental injuries, tore families apart, destroyed homes, took away livelihoods and traumatized a population. Its aftermath compounded those ills. The courage of the victims in the face of continuing hardship deserves our admiration. Their recovery is not aided by continuing incursions into Beit Hanoun including on the night after the mission’s visit to the town”.

The report also concludes that “The people of Gaza must be afforded protection in compliance with international law and, above all, the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Israeli military must place at the centre of its decision-making and activities in the occupied Palestinian territories the consequences of the use of force on civilians. In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military (who is in sole possession of the relevant facts), the mission must conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, as the mission made clear to Hamas at the highest level, the firing of rockets on the civilian population in Israel must stop. Those in positions of authority in Gaza have not only an international humanitarian law obligation to respect international humanitarian law norms relating to the protection of civilians, but also a responsibility to ensure that these norms are respected by others”.

And, the report says, “One victim of the Beit Hanoun shelling was the rule of law. There has been no accountability for an act that killed 19 people and injured many more. The Israeli response of a largely secret internal military investigation is absolutely unacceptable from both legal and moral points of view. The mission notes that Israel has adopted a similar response to other killings by its military, with similar results. The mission repeats its position that, regardless of whether the casualties at Beit Hanoun were caused by a mistake, recklessness, criminal negligence or willful conduct, those responsible must be held accountable. It is not too late for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation of the shelling to be held; indeed, the mission notes other instances in which the courts have ordered the Israeli military to open investigations into the killings of civilians by the military … Accountability involves providing a remedy and redress for victims. To date, neither has been forthcoming from Israel, despite its admission of responsibility for the attack … The present report outlines some of the obstacles put in the way of victims seeking justice. While the mission calls on Israel to remove these obstacles, it is of the view that victims should not be forced to fight for compensation through Israeli courts when all accept that damage was inflicted on individuals by the State. The mission recommends that the State of Israel pay victims adequate compensation without delay. In the light of the magnitude of the attack on a small community, and in addition to compensation to individuals, the mission also recommends that Israel make reparation to the community of Beit Hanoun in the form of a memorial to the victims that constitutes a response to the needs of survivors. Possibilities include a health facility such as a much-needed physiotherapy clinic … The situation of victims and survivors of the shelling, as witnessed by the mission, remains grim. Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have human rights obligations towards the victims. Most of the ongoing violations, however, are caused by Israeli action or inaction. The mission calls on Israel to honour its obligations to the people of Beit Hanoun, and more generally to the people of occupied Gaza, to respect, protect and fulfil their human rights. A major barrier to the enjoyment of human rights is the ongoing blockade that limits individuals’ ability to provide an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families and the capacity of local authorities to provide essential services for the population. A central need of victims is access to health services. Israel must desist from obstructing victims’ access to health-care services, be it through restricting the flow of medical goods and personnel into Gaza, or through restricting victims’ ability to leave Gaza to seek health care elsewhere.”

And, the report concluded, “one of the most effective and immediate means of protecting Palestinian civilians against any further Israeli assaults is to insist on respect for the rule of law and accountability. We have seen that even the flawed Israeli investigation into the Beit Hanoun shelling resulted in a decision to discontinue use of artillery in Gaza, one of the main causes of civilian death and injury in the territory…During a press conference at the conclusion of its visit to Gaza, the mission indicated that the international community is failing to fulfil its role in respect of the suffering of the people of Gaza, in particular in its silence which begets complicity. In its efforts to discharge its mandate, the mission witnessed positions based on political objectives rather than on principle by all relevant parties”.


No tear gas fired at Qalandia checkpoint on the second Friday in Ramadan

There were eight Israeli snipers aiming the barrels of their weapons at the crowd trying to enter the major Qalandia “border crossing” between Ramallah and Jerusalem on the second Friday in Ramadan in order to perform Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. And there were more Palestinians hoping to get through than on the previous Friday.

A small group of those denied passage simply put their prayer rugs down, or pieces of cardboard, or newspaper, and prayed on the spot — men ahead, women behind.

But — for the first time in years — no stone was thrown by the frustrated crowd, and no tear gas or rubber bullets or stun grenades were fired by the Israeli forces.

One suggestion made by observers last week — that signs be posted at the entrance to explain procedures to the crowd — was actually implemented. Signs saying “Men only” and “Women only”, and explaining this years rules about age and permits, were posted at the concrete barrier where Israeli forces were doing a first screening of the anxious faithful who wanted badly to be allowed to go to pray.

Still, it was dramatic and difficult.

Palestinians yearning to get through Qalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

People had gone through a lot to get to Qalandia then crumpled when they thought they were being denied entrance.

Abandoned shoes — even an intact pair of children’s shoes — littered the “sterile zone” where the Palestinans had to pass to get to the full Qalandia inspection zone, as if a human or natural catastrophe had just happened.

A crowd of Palestinians trying to get into Qalandia checkpoint for admission to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The sun was hot, and there were no comforts for those passing to pray.

A Palestinian crosses the sterile zone to get to Qalandia checkpoint prior to passage to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The checkpoint controls can be called chilling, claustrophobic — and everything about them is humiliating.

A Palestinian woman passing through Qalandia checkpoint controls

A man led the prayer who was denied passage at the other end of the “sterile zone”. I saw him turned away, roughly, at the other end of the “sterile zone” when I arrived at Qalandia. “Yellah! Yellah!”, the Israeli soldiers shouted, waving their hands and dismissing like children, or even like stray dogs, a small group of men in robes who wanted to go to pray in Jerusalem.

After the prayer, the man said he had come from Nablus, in the northern West Bank. He spoke English, and said his name was Nadir. He said he didn’t have a permit, and was just a few months younger than 50 years old, the age at which men could pass without a permit. He said he believed the Israelis wanted to cut the Palestinians’ ties to Al-Aqsa. “They say they are the ones killed”, he concluded, “but they turn the truth [around]”.

A child waits while Palestinians pray at Qalandia because they were not allowed to get to Jerusalem.

An Israeli soldier said that it was hard for him, too, to see women and children standing at the police barriers in such conditions. “I’d rather be at home”, he said wearily.

Israeli forces deployed outside of Qalandia checkpoint sterile zone

With special thanks to Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch — who was also pushed around by an Israeli soldier at Qalandia today — for these photos.

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?

A vigilant friend and colleague in Geneva has sent this translation by UNRIC’s Desk Officer for Spain of
the article that appeared in El Pais on Sunday, saying “the translation is not perfect but tells you what John Carlin [and Spain’s prominent newspaper El Pais! says about Ban Ki-moon:.


“The UN Secretary-General has remained absent from the great international conflicts and has blurred the role of the Organization. The United Nations therefore misses the opportunity to rebuild itself from the Iraq dump now that the upcoming changes in Washington come up.

El Pais, 07/09/2008
By John Carlin

“During a meeting with Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem last year, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began expressing his satisfaction ‘for being in Israel’.

While the Palestinians who were present showed astonishment, making efforts to repress their indignation, one of Ban’s advisers whispered him that calling the occupied territory where they were “Israel” was not the most diplomatic thing he could do, given the attendants. Ban agreed, continued and finished his remarks with a smile and a happy “it has been a great pleasure to be in Israel’.

The confusion that Ban caused that day among the Palestinians has extended today, 20 months after he took over the post of Secretary-General, to the majority of the member States of the UN. On the eve of 63rd Session of the General Assembly that will begin in New York on the 16th of this month, a yearly ceremony in which Heads of Government of the entire world meet, there is an increasing perception that it would not be advisable that Ban, in the past the Foreign Minister of his country, South Korea, be renewed in his present five-year mandate when it concludes. The usual thing to do would be to continue in the post that some have described as a ‘Lay Pope’. But the impression that ‘the glass is half empty’ increases, a former top UN official points out.

“He adds that (Ban) is not the right man to preserve the independence and the legitimacy of the United Nations at a time in which it suffers from increasing paralysis, although there is a slight opportunity –before the imminent change of Government in United States- to be able to rise from the remains of the war of Iraq and the animosity of the President George W. Bush, as the moral and political force of Human Rights and Peace, as it was intended to be when it was founded at the end WWII. Continue reading UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?