Heightened drama at monthly UNSC debate on Middle East, ahead of possible Palestinian bid at UN

The tone in Robert Serry’s voice conveyed an urgency greater than the mere words on paper.

On Tuesday [26 July], during the now-regular monthly meeting of the UN Security Council on the Middle East, Serry — who is the new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and also Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General — Serry told the UN Security Council that “the political process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in profound and persistent deadlock“.

He spoke of the evident “differences and lack of trust between the parties”.

According to the logic of Serry’s statement, Israel maintains its military occupation that began with its conquests in the June 1967 war, some 43 years ago, because of Israeli leadership’s gnawing concerns for “lasting security”.

In the absence of a credible political horizon for ending the occupation that began in 1967, and of any framework for meaningful talks, and with Israeli settlement activity continuing, the Palestinian leadership is now actively exploring approaching the UN, Serry said — as a way to help preserve the two-state solution.

Israel has objected to any such move, calling it a “unilateral” action which violates — and might invalidate — the Oslo Accords negotiated with the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] in the early and mid-1990s. Various Israeli officials have threatened a number of possible difficult reactions, including an intensification of the difficulties [for Palestinians] of the Israeli occupation. Some Israelis have even threatened possible partial annexation of areas in the West Bank [parts of the West Bank in and around the Old City of Jerusalem have already been effectively annexed in the weeks following the June 1967 war, although UN member states have voted, in the UNSC and in the UN General Assembly and in other bodies and organs, to consider this unilateral Israeli act “null and void”].

This monthly UNSC debate, which has become rather routine, was described this time in Israeli media reports as a kind of a dress rehearsal for what might happen at the UN in September, when the Palestinian leadership has decided to make some kind of as-yet-undefined move towards functional statehood [unless, of course, they change their minds at the last minute, as they have with so many other things, including local and national elections…]

Serry told the Council that “the PA has in key areas reached a level of institutional performance sufficient for a functioning state … and is ready to assume the responsibilities of statehood at any point in the near future”.

Twenty years after the start of the inconclusive peace talks, starting with the multilateral Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991 [whose very slow progress lead to secret side talks, sponsored by Norway, between Israel and Palestinian figures, that resulted in the Oslo process that in 1994 instituted a transitional five-year arrangement including the establishment of a local Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza], “yet, again, we are reaching a point where the parties have failed to meet an agreed timeline for a permanent status agreement … [and] I cannot but describe the situation where Palestinian state-building has matured in the West Bank, but the political track has failed to converge, as dramatic”, Serry said.

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What is the occupation? Is it possible to laugh about it?

Suad al-Amiry, in her closing speech at an event organized by TedXRamallah, re-told the famous story about her dog and her dog’s Jerusalem passport, which says a lot both about the occupation [and about crossing Qalandia, the main and terrible checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem], and about becoming a writer, and much more:

[[ Sorry two facts here are confusing, perhaps just misspoken: (1) Suad explains that from Atarot, where she got Nura’s dog passport, you can go either to Ramallah or to Qalandia… (2) Suad says Israeli license plates are yellow, while Palestinian license plates are blue (they are green, with white)…]]

Intimidation in Gaza waters

This footage, according to @CPSGaza on Twitter, was lost at sea during this attack by Israeli Navy water cannon (and apparently live fire?), but since recovered from the sea:

Who is giving the orders to this Israeli Naval vessel to attack this monitoring boat with a water cannon? Who is allowing the use of live fire, on this boat, and on the boats of Palestinian fishermen (who also sometimes are targetted by water cannon?
What is the justification?

On Saturday, some of those earlier on board the Olivia, now disabled from the attacks of the Israeli Navy, went out on a Palestinian fishing boat instead.

One on board reported that the Israeli Navy “fired live rounds both in the water and directly at the boat for around 15 or 20 minutes”, and she confirmed here that the “Oliva project is currently on an indefinite hiatus”…

Intimidation of the media in Israel

The situation here is a story that is fascinating, compelling and important.

Yet, the media — the international media, at least — is scared of covering this situation, this conflict.

They are scared of offending one or more likely both sides, scared of being criticized, menaced … and intimidated.

Once a journalist is intimidated — and scared — it becomes impossible to do the job properly.

Nothing is being done to prevent this — despite all the talk about democracy and democratic freedoms of press and of expression, etc.

The harassment and humiliation of three female journalists (probably all of Arabic origin) going to interview the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last week is a case in point.

It is not the first time it happened.

That means that there was no policy decision to stop it.

The PM’s office was well aware it could/would happen. And, they were either standing right there, as they were the last time it happened, or they were very nearby.

And, it just happened again.

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There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Here are some excerpts, which I’m recording here as notes for the record, from a discussion about the Israeli seizure of the Flotillas headed to Gaza and Israel’s continuing naval blockade of Gaza, in comments made on a post on Mondoweiss, written by Steve Fake and published on 19 July, entitled “Destination? Gaza!: The Freedom Flotilla II meets the Israeli military:, which is posted here.

What I found interesting was the exchange about legality.

Hostage wrote on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am:

The official commentary on Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions describes many of the customary prohibitions that Israel is deliberately violating regarding supplies of essential items and relief consignments to a civilian population. The convention provides that free passage of relief consignments is mandatory:
The principle of free passage, as set forth in this clause, means that relief consignments for the population of an occupied territory must be allowed to pass through the blockade; they cannot under any circumstances be declared war contraband or be seized as such by those enforcing the blockade. The obligation to authorize the free passage of relief consignments is accompanied by the obligation to guarantee their protection. It will not be enough merely to lift the blockade and refrain from attacking or confiscating the goods. More than that will be required: all the States concerned must respect the consignments and protect them when they are exposed to danger through military operations“.

The official commentary also stipulates that the safeguards for verification and supervision,
which were prescribed in the interests of the Powers granting free passage, must in no case be misused in order to make the rule [i.e. free passage] itself inoperative or unduly delay the forwarding of relief“.

France and Turkey were the parties to the landmark S.S. Lotus case in which the PCIJ ruled that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.” The US abstained from the vote on UN SC 1860. I doubt that Bibi is eager to take on a permanent member of the Security Council in an international court over the the legality of Israel’s blockade or which state owns Gaza’s territorial waters 😉

Continue reading “There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate”

Amira Hass describes experience on Dignity

Speaking from Ramallah on a radio interview with the Democracy Now radio program, Amira Hass gave one of the few accounts publicly available about what happened during the Israeli Navy’s interception and commandeering of the yacht, Dignity, that was tring to sail to Gaza.

NOTE: Amira Hass usually refuses to give interviews.
UPDATE: Her own account has been published by Haaretz, in English, on Sunday 24 July here — in which she describes “discomfort as an act of political rebellion”. And, she wrote in her article, about “the contradiction of which everyone was aware: The means (a sea voyage to protest the siege of Gaza ) had turned into the end itself. The adventure had become the goal. And this boat would sail!” Countering the accusations of “lying”, made by the IDF chief spokesman himself, partly to justify the commandeering of the yacht, Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz that “The official destination was Alexandria. The idea was to refuel there and then to continue to Gaza. That plan was abandoned out of a desire not to become involved in the sensitive political entanglements in Egypt”…

Amira Hass’ interview was aired by Democracy Now on Thursday 21 July, a day after 15 of the others on board were apparently deported [including the jounalists???].  The transcript of her remarks is posted here.

She told Democracy Now:
Some 60 miles away from Gaza, we got the signal from an Israeli warship asking where we were heading to. One of the—one on board said, “To Gaza.” Then they said, “It’s illegal. It’s not allowed.”  The person—it’s Professor Vangelis Pissias, the Greek—tried to explain that this is a mission of peace and solidarity. There are no arms, no cargo, just wishing to reach Gaza.  And they were replied again by, “No, this is not legal, or not allowed.”  Immediately then, all communication was jammed.  We could not call anymore. We could not get calls anymore. The internet did not work.

And soon after, we saw four commando boats, very quick, very fast boats, approaching us. Masked men were aiming their rifles at us. They were, of course, in uniforms, IDF uniforms.  They were aiming all sorts of guns that I don’t even know how to name them. There were two cannon—two of them had—each of them had a cannon, a water cannon.  Then, three more were added to the four.  They distanced a bit, then returned.

At around 2:00, they approached, started to use the water cannon, and shouted something. One of on board, Dror Feiler, who is an Israeli, shouted back in Hebrew. Another activist, Claude Léostic of France, said, “This is—we are on the way to Gaza. This is international water. You have no right to impound us.”  And yet, they managed to enter on board.

It was not violent as the former flotillas or the boats that were in past years, when they attacked people physically.  But the very act, of course, is violent, the very act of—imagine 10 vessels, three warships and seven gunboats, attacking this small bucket.  We looked like a bucket rocking in the sea.  This was very violent.  But physically, we were spared what—the fate that was the one of the Mavi Marmara

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Security perversions at the Israeli Prime Minister's Office

On Thursday, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel issued a statement that “strongly condemns the continued harassment of journalists attending media events at the prime minister’s office”.

What happened this time? It’s really a shame that any journalist stood there and took it: “In the past two days, three female reporters in separate incidents were forced to undress, remove their bras and have them placed through an X-ray machine in front of a group of colleagues. In addition, pocketbooks were emptied in public, with personal items also put on display and X-rayed for everyone to see”.

Why did these journalists comply?

Was someone pointing a gun at their heads? [Probably not… but… ]

We reported, in January, on an earlier FPA complaint, here.

The statement noted that “This type of treatment is unnecessary, humiliating and counterproductive. After repeated appeals and promises by security officials it appears that the Prime Minister’s Office does not have the desire to stop this happening“.

According to the FPA, whose elected board would not have issued this statement without sufficient provocation, the Prime Minister’s office is the only place “where this type of incident occurs”.

So, being now sufficiently provoked [again], the FPA threatened that it “will begin consulting its members over whether the foreign media should no longer cover events at the PM’s office”.

Already, last January, the FPA threatened to actually stop attending such briefings — now, it says it “will begin consulting its members” about such a “boycott” [really wondering if we can still, now, use this word, legally, in these circumstances to describe such actions in Israel, without fear of retribution or prosecution?]…  See our previous report here.

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UPDATE [Saturday 23 July]: AFP [Agence France Presse] reported on Friday that one of their correspondents had been subjected to this perverse security procedure, but added that the two other female correspondents subjected to the same or similar treatment did not wish to be identified. AFP wrote that: “Foreign journalists on Friday spoke of their distress after being asked to remove their bras for a security check before being allowed into the offices of Israel’s prime minister. The three women were told by security personnel to undress and take off their bras for x-ray in two separate incidents at the Jerusalem offices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week. All three complied with the request, despite the distress it caused … Each of the women was taken behind a curtain in the lobby of the entrance hall and patted down before being told to undress, then their bras were passed out in full view of male and female colleagues and security personnel, to be put through an x-ray machine. Their personal effects were also emptied out in public view and put through the machine … Sara Hussein, who works for Agence France-Presse (AFP), described the incident as utterly humiliating. ‘I can only describe the experience as among the most humiliating in my life’, she wrote in a complaint to the FPA. ‘I have covered meetings of presidents at the White House and not been subjected to anything similar’. Neither of the other two women reporters, both of whom were deeply distressed by the incident, wished to be identified. All three have filed detailed complaints with the FPA, which is pursuing the matter with the Israeli authorities”. This AFP report is posted here.

AFP added, in its report, that “Officials at Netanyahu’s office refused to comment directly on the two incidents, saying only: ‘We are aware of the concerns and we are looking into the matter’ … Government Press Office head Oren Helman expressed regret over the demand for the women to remove their bras, describing it as ‘offensive and damaging to the State of Israel. We are talking about an embarrassing failure, which we will do everything within our power to prevent from reoccurring’, he said in a statement sent to AFP. ‘This is certainly not our policy’.”

UPDATE TWO [Saturday 23 July]: An official of the FPA informs me that my assumption that the other journalists subjected to this peverse security treatment at the Prime Minister’s Officer were NOT those from Al-Arabiyya Television who conducted the very softball interview with PM Netanyahu , which the Prime Minister’s Office [PMO] published here

Accordingly, on the basis of information from this FPA official that the assumption was wrong, I am removing discussion about the substance of the Al-Arabiyya interview with Netanyahu here — which looked at the softball questions and the unchallenged spin in the  answers in the light of the intimidation and humiliation that the women involved had experienced — and will repost it elsewhere

This same FPA official responded both to my observation that the FPA had already threatened a “boycott” [can we now use this word, legally, in these circumstances to describe such actions in Israel, without fear of retribution or prosecution?], yet this kind of humiliation recurred, and to my wondering why the women involved had agreed to accept such treatment, by writing in an email: “the big companies may not agree.  For some reason the men are better at this – they simply turn round and walk off and to hell with the story.  Do you think women are more concerned about losing their jobs?”

The men may be better at refusing such treatment — but they are also less understanding of the specific humiliation that women feel in such situations. Palestinian Television discussed this matter in a program called “Falastin Sabahan” [Palestine Morning], which discusses articles published in the Palestinian press. The male co-host of the program read out the report with a big grin, shook his head, and laughed…

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Now, I have my own complaint, though a FPA official earlier advised me not to give it second thought: for publishing one of the previous FPA complaints — and I am a member of the FPA since 2007 — I was “mentioned” [this is not a benign act] on a website named antisemitism.org. Our post that somehow earned such a mention [for anti-semitism] was published on 18 July 2010, here.

Israel now says it is enforcing a "maritime SECURITY blockade" of Gaza

The Israeli Naval interception of the French-flagged Yacht took place around 1:00 in the afternoon on Tuesday — reportedly, 40 miles off Gaza, whose agreed maritime space, as defined by the Oslo Accords, extends 20 nautical miles out into the Mediterranean off Gaza’s coastline.

The Dignity, with 16 or so passengers and 3 crew members — but no cargo — was nonetheless taken to Israel’s Ashdod Port, where all on board were due to be interrogated — then apparently deported (all, that is, but Israeli journalist for Haaretz, Amira Haaretz).

The IDF spokesperson later said [see below] that the take-over and commandeering of this yacht took place once it became clear those on board were creating a “provocation”, and after they had “lied” …

Haaretz reported in the evening that “The most complicated tasks were actually performed by the electronic warfare team and by the IDF Spokesperson’s unit”.

The Haaretz report noted that “When they set sail on Saturday and declared the Alexandria port as their destination, no one seemed to care anymore. The end of the saga was predictable. After all, Israeli intelligence knew exactly who was on board the yacht, and that none of the passengers would react violently. The Israel Navy was in action, but by then was regarding it a near routine operation … For once, the IDF was not only controlling the battlefield but the media as well”.

This congratulatory piece, published here, also said that “Simultaneously, the IDF Spokesperson supplied media outlets with real-time updates on every stage of the negotiations between the navy and the French yacht, released the IDF chief’s orders to intercept the vessel, and, after 10 minutes, put out a statement on the IDF interception, which had been carried out quickly and smoothly. Pictures and videos taken by IDF ships were also immediately circulated …”

What we really learned from last year’s “mistakes” is that a fuller version of the story will emerge only after those on board are free to speak about their experiences.

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Turkey disagrees with UN report on legality of Israeli naval blockade of Gaza

Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats”, said in an interview published in Turkey on Monday that his government does not agree with all of the still-unpublished conclusions in a 90-page report of a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to look into the forceful Israeli interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 31 May 2010, during which 8 Turkish men and one Turkish American high school student were killed by Israeli forces.

An AFP story that appeared in the first week of July said that the UN report considered these deaths “unacceptable”.

And, Sanberk said today: “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

The Turkish passenger ship, chartered by the Turkish humanitarian aid organization IHH, was carrying about 600 passengers and crew, and was sailing towards Gaza as part of a “Freedom Flotilla” with a number of other boats carrying international activists and cargoes of humanitarian aid.

The stated aim of the Freedom Flotilla was to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel declared a formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space on 3-4 January 2009, as the IDF began the ground phase in its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas.

Sanberk is Turkey’s representative to the panel, which was assembled by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and headed by fFormer New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer. He spoke to the English-language Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, in Istanbul, the paper said, after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York that started at the beginning of July. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

Sanberk noted that “it is probably the first time in Israel’s history that it is voluntarily taking part in a UN investigation”, and said that Israel seems to have “an attitude of making a diplomatic gesture by accepting the UN investigation. They have repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

In the interview, Sanberk said that “The report clearly indicates the responsibility of the Israeli soldiers, while also acknowledging that Israel has security concerns and the Gaza blockade is legal. However, we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”.

According to Today’s Zaman, Sanberk “also said that even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

“It is interesting to note that two bodies, both under the UN, have conflicting results in their reports”, Sanberk said.

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What is the Occupation (cont'd): Israeli Military Justice System in the West Bank – UPDATED

This is a rough cut of a film, entitled The Law in These Parts, apparently made by Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz [correcting our earlier report identifying Ohad Nave as the filmmaker, with this new information posted by Joseph Dana on Monday].

This film is expected to be released later in the year, according to a Tweet on Sunday from @ibnezra (Joseph Dana).

UPDATE: In his later report posted on +972 Magazine, here Dana quoted from what he said was a press release for the film, which states: “Since Israel conquered the territories in the 1967 War, the Israeli Defense Forces legal corps have created and implemented thousands of military orders and laws, established military courts, sentenced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. This complex system which is invisible to most Israelis is very present in Palestinian daily life and is unique in the entire world”.

What’s shown here is video footage of one of the Israeli military judges, working in Nablus in 1989 (during the first Palestinian Intifada), and today — interviewed (as are several other judges shown here, separately) about whether he knew how the information was obtained in the confessions he was given to convict Palestinians (by their own testimony, under pressure if not full torture, without legal assistance).

It is very difficult to watch — though there is no graphic physical violence shown in this footage — and it is painfully, exquisitely revealing of human emotions:

It was first posted on Vimeo [in a version over 23 minutes long], then removed on Monday.

UPDATE on 25 January 2012: Now that the film is being screened at the Sundance Film Festival in Colorado, and elsewhere, it has now been removed from public view on Youtube as well — and is low listed as “Private”, with permission needed for access…

A shortened version [just over 12 minutes long] is now posted on Youtube, here:

UPDATE: It’s strange that this video has been removed from the Vimeo site, which identified Ohad Nave as filmmaker, and in its place is only a message reading: “Sorry, “The Law In These Parts” was deleted at 11:13:43 Mon Jul 18, 2011. We have no more information about it on our mainframe or elsewhere”.

This is a version of the text that was produced automatically by the Vimeo site: The Law In These Parts, a rough cut of a film from Ohad Nave posted on Vimeo.

The Israeli military justice system continues to operate in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory Those accused (only Palestinians) have far fewer rights than in Israeli courts inside “Israel proper”. Some 1 million Palestinians are estimated to have passed through the Israeli military justice system in the West Bank. Between 6-7,000 are in Israeli jails detention centers now, including 220 in “Administrative Detention” — in which security services present their evidence in secret, and even those accused do not know what this evidence is, so they have no way to refute it. Israeli military judges almost always accept these secret dossiers, and hand down the security-requested detention orders, which are renewable (generally, according to Al-Haq, from six months to six years). There are also between 2-300 children in Israeli jails or detention centers.

Many of those Palestinians convicted under the Israeli military justice system are transferred to jails or detention centers inside “Israel proper” (meaning outside the West Bank or Gaza) — though this is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, the Israeli Supreme Court has approved the practice. Moving the prisoners or detainees into Israel makes it difficult if not impossible for family visits.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently gone public (at the end of June) with a complaint, which we wrote about here, that families from Gaza have been prohibited from entering Israel to visit their detained relatives and loved ones since mid-June 2007 (following the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Services).