Solidarity protests at the ICRC in Ramallah on Thursday to demand international action in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails

This morning, solidarity protesters showed up at the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]  in Ramallah, in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on hunger strike:

Solidarity protests at the ICRC in Ramallah on Thurs 10 May - photo posted on Facebook by Radio Ajyal

Photo by Radio Ajyal, posted on Facebook here

The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]

23:55 pm: A Tweet from Turkish journalist @MahirZeynalov says that 11, not 10, Palestinian released prisoners has arrived in Ankara: “11 released Palestinian prisoners make sajdah right after they leave the plane in Ankara’s airport. Palestinian Amb. to Turkey met them”. UPDATE: The additional person appears to be a woman — perhaps the one [or one of the ones, but I think it was in the end only one] who refused to be sent to Gaza this morning, and Egypt reportedly agreed to take her. [If so, it must be Mariam al-Tarabeen, or Tarabini...] But, perhaps Egypt agreed to take her to the Cairo airport, on the condition that Turkey would be the ultimate destination, or receiving country.

21:15 pm: At least one of the Palestinian prisoners released today, a woman who is now in Gaza, was on the hunger strike that began on 27 September — Wafa al-Bis was hospitalized in Gaza tonight, according to a report by WAFA picked up and posted here. It seems that she was one of the women prisoners who initially refused to be released into Gaza, if I correctly understood earlier Tweet by @dimaeleiwa.

19:05 pm: Just realized, listening to replay of Noam Shalit’s remarks to public in Mitzpe Hila, he said his son Gilad suffers from lack of sunlight [that was kind of obvious today], from after-effects of shrapnel wounds [how did he get these shrapnel wounds?] , and from isolation — including because he did not speak the language and could not communicate with OTHER PRISONERS. What OTHER PRISONERS was Gilad Shalit held with?

18:15 pm:: Live event in Gaza, address by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyah shouting angrily — apparently in answer to criticism that Hamas has benefitted — by saying that all factions were consulted and involved, Palestinians are one people. Al Jazeera [+ some other TV channels] break away from Haniyeh speech just after he says Chris Bandak, a Palestinian Christian [from Bethlehem] who had been serving three [3] life sentences “is now here with us”. Al Jazeera International goes directly to public remarks being made in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel by Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, who mentioned that his son still suffers from shrapnel injuries [shrapnel? Couldn’t have been from the operation when he was captured, could it? Was it, instead, from IDF’s Operation Cast Lead? — there were reports he had been injured] and from having been in near-total isolation…

16:30 pm: IDF says Gilad Shalit has completed medical exams and will fly to family home in Mizpe Hila soon. Arrived after 17h00 — holding up well, greeted by crowd waving lots of large Israeli flags. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister said that 10 released Palestinian prisoners are being flown from Cairo to Turkey — for 5-year stay! UPDATE: Palestinian TV reports on night news that the Turkish FM had a phone conversation today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Continue reading “The day of the big prisoner swap [ok, yes, it's an "egregious" term]”

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 😉

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After four years, ICRC goes public with criticism of Israeli policy preventing visits of families from Gaza to Palestinian detainees in Israel

In its own special way, the ICRC has gone public with criticism of Israeli policy that has prevented family visits — for fully the past four years — to Palestinian detainees from Gaza being held in Israel prisons.

A media announcement has been released (this is going public) and a somewhat stilted video has been released (part of it viewable from the ICRC website here).

On the same webpage, the ICRC gives this explanation: “Gaza detainees barred from family visits: In June 2007, the Israeli authorities announced the suspension of family visits for Palestinians from Gaza who were being held in Israel. This decision, which was made a year after Palestinian armed groups captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, deprives both the detainees and their relatives of an essential lifeline, and cuts detainees off from the outside world. In the past four years, over 700 families from Gaza have been prevented from seeing their detained relatives”.

Almost simultaneously (though I didn’t see this until later), the ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord issued a statement in Geneva saying that “The total absence of information concerning Mr Shalit is completely unacceptable … The Shalit family have the right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their son … Hamas has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect Mr. Shalit’s life, to treat him humanely and to let him have contact with his family”.

The statement noted that “The ICRC continues to make every possible effort to gain access to Mr Shalit or at least to establish contact between him and his family”.

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Hussam Khader brought to Ofer Prison hearing, returned to Megiddo Prison

There are a couple of ways to approach this story.

One is to explain that Hussam Khader, a well-known Fatah activist, who was taken into custody by a very large group of masked IDF forces who raided his home at 2am the very beginning of June, was brought yesterday to Ofer Prison along Road 443 between Qalandia checkpoint and Modi’in for an Israeli military court hearing on whether or not to enact a request — already granted in principle — from an Israeli military prosecutor, to send him for a six-month sentence of Administrative Detention (renewable).

The military judge, Michael Ben-David, refused, for the second time, to enact the Administrative Detention order without real evidence that such a severe sentence is necessary.

However, this means that Hussam Khader is still in prison, one way or another.

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UNSG's new report on UNDOF mentions Golan minefields + Palestinian protests

The UN Secretary-General’s new report raises more questions than answers about two protests that turned deadly in the Golan Heights in the past month in which people who the UN report identified as “civilians”, and “largely young unarmed Palestinians” overran Syrian, UN, and Israeli lines — in an attempt to enter an area under Israeli control.

The UN said it still did not know the exact casualty toll. The report said that the two demonstrations “resulted in an unconfirmed number of civilian casualties and put the long-held ceasefire in jeopardy”.

The statement about the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire being in jeopardy is a surprise: there are no reports of any Syrian responses to the Israeli firing on the demonstrators.

The report was prepared, as it usually is, by the UNSG in connection with the imminent renewal of the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights later this month.   The UN has decided to ask for a regular six-month renewal, as has happened since 1974, and a threat to the cease-fire would be a good justification for renewal.

The report does not say that Syrian forces were in any way responsible for the organizing the protests, though it does note several times that the Syrian forces were present.

On May 15, it said, “A total of 44 civilian casualties, including four fatalities from IDF fire, were reported, but UNDOF has not been able to confirm these numbers”. In the second demonstration, it said, “Although UNDOF could not confirm the number of casualties during the 5 June events, up to 23 persons have been reported killed and many more wounded”.

The report said that it was still investigating an “incident” in which two civilians “entered Majdal Chams and demonstrated in the town centre” during the May 15 protest — and were detained by the IDF. They were returned two days later, on 17 May, “by the IDF through UNDOF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the Syrian authorities”. According to the UN report, “UNDOF is investigating the incident and both parties have agreed in principle to cooperate with UNDOF’s investigation”.

It also said it was still investigating an apparent attack by protestors, during the June 5 protest, on an UNDOF position. Stones were thrown at a UNDOF commander trying to calm the situation, several protesters climbed the walls and entered the UNDOF facility and some UNDOF military police were evacuated for their own protection.

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ICRC in Tel Aviv on IDF newly-laid minefields in Golan

The ICRC Spokesperson in Tel Aviv Ran Goldstein informed me by email, in response to my query days ago, about Israeli media reports of newly-laid IDF minefields in the Golan planted in the weeks between May15 and June5 demonstrations, that:
We are closely following the events that are taking place in the Golan. The organization is particularly concerned with the loss of life and the wounded. The ICRC has also reminded the IDF of its obligations regarding the need to respect international standards relevant to law enforcement especially with regards to the proportionate use of force. The ICRC has a confidential and bilateral dialogue with the authorities on the situation. Once it has collected more details on the incidents, the ICRC would be able to address the authorities according to its working modalities. Unfortunately, for the moment, we can’t provide you with additional details about this issue“.

The IDF has also been criticized for the use of live fire — after oral warnings in Arabic, Israeli officials counter — against unarmed protesters who breached Israeli lines in the Golan both on May15 and on June5.

Our earlier posts on this are: 7 June – here; 8 June – here; and 9 June – here.

Gaza civilians: exposed to arbitrary IDF warning fire [though IDF says it is not arbitrary]

The Jerusalem Post’s Larry Derfner reported in the weekend Magazine that he was told by a senior Israeli defense official that, so far in 2010, Israeli troops at Gaza border have killed 30 armed Palestinians + five civilians.

According to Derfner’s article, this Israeli official knows of no “mistaken” killing during the past 1.5 years in Gaza. Another Israeli Defense official said, however, that “none … were purely innocent bystanders”.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), however, has reported that “In most cases ‘warning shots’ are fired to force people out of the area, which results in no casualties… [but a] minority of cases have resulted in the death and injury of civilians”.

Derfner mentions the coverage of the killings of two of those five Gazan civilians: on September 12 [the third day of the post-Ramadan Muslim three-day Eid holiday], “an incident near the northern part of the Gaza Strip received more than the usual, meager level of attention: An unarmed 91-year-old Palestinian farm employee, Ibrahim Abu Said, his teenage grandson and another young man were killed by an IDF tank shell a few hundred meters from the border … The army acknowledged up front that the dead suspects had been unarmed, but the investigation exonerated the soldiers who fired the shell. ‘One of the young men had picked up an RPG [shoulder-fired missile launcher] from the ground. He might have been just playing with it, but the tank unit felt threatened. They thought it was being aimed at them, so they fired. Right before that, there had been mortars fired at our positions’, a senior defense official in the northern Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post this week”.

The Derfner article also says that another one among the five civilian — but no, still not mistaken, according to the IDF official — Palestinian deaths in Gaza this year was “a man who was carrying a slingshot at the head of group of protesters headed for the border fence. ‘We fired warning shots and he didn’t leave. Then the soldiers fired with the intent to injure, not kill. They hit him around the knee, and he didn’t get proper treatment over there, and he bled to death’, said the official, noting that the reason demonstrators are not allowed near the fence is that some, often youngsters, use the opportunity to plant explosives”.

No Palestinians were questioned in the IDF investigation, said the official” “the army has no direct contact with Gaza’s population except during brief military incursions, so the Palestinian side, as a rule, is not heard in army inquiries”.

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Israeli international law expert discusses naval blockade of Gaza

If Israel was ambivalent (or of several minds) about the applicability of international law, prior to the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla in the pre-dawn hours of 31 May, the Israeli government has now rediscovered its value.

Professor Ruth Lapidot, a former legal adviser to Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is one of — if not the – preeminent Israeli expert on international law [also known as public international law]. Her views are taken extremely seriously in official Israeli circles.

She recently [on 16 June] discussed Israel’s announced naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space in a meeting with diplomats and journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs [run by Israel’s former Ambassador Dore Gold.

Some of the more interesting things she said are: Israel has declared a formal naval blockade of Gaza’s coastline, in January 2009 [as we have reported here]. The area which is blockaded has to be clearly defined, and there has to be clear notification. The blockade must be applied without discrimination (though limited specific exceptions can be permitted).  Humanitarian assistance must be permitted — but not goods which may increase the war capacity of, in this case, Hamas.  If there is a suspicion that a ship is carrying arms or personnel to , in this case, Hamas, Israel may capture, visit, or search a ship that enters the blockaded zone, and can try to persuade them to leave. But, if a ship tries to run the blockade, there is a clear difference between how it is possible to treat a merchant ship (military force can be used) or a warship (only protests are allowed).

Those who oppose this blockade only say that it’s against international law, without saying why, Professor Lapidot said.

UPDATE: In a just-published interview, Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza movement said that “Israel has no right to stop us under international law UNLESS it wants to admit that it occupies Gaza. Since Israel says it no longer occupies Gaza and Gaza is free, they have no right to stop us. In addition, the blockade is collective punishment against a civilian population that is WAY out of line. International law, Amnesty International and the International Red Cross have all said the same thing. Israel’s blockade is illegal”… This is published here.

Professor Lapidot explained at the JCPA discussion that she believed Gaza is a sui generis entity, a special case. Because Gaza was never annexed by Israel, and because Israel does not control the entire territory of Gaza, she argued, it is not occupied. However, since Israel controls the air and sea space [criteria that many if not most other international law experts say are confirmation of an occupation], it has a special responsibility in case of accidents. She noted that the former Israeli Supreme Court head Justice Barak ruled that Israel also has a moral responsibility because it did previously occupy Gaza for so long.

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Gaza in Despair

The ICRC is not alone in saying, as they do in a new report, that Gaza’s 1.5 million people are trapped in despair.

During the 22-day IDF military operation, there was no safe place for civilians in the Gaza Strip, the report says. The small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world.

Now, it says, “Six months after the end of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, the people living there find themselves unable to rebuild their lives and are sliding ever deeper into despair”.

According to the report, “the stringent [Israeli military] restrictions on movements of persons and goods into and out of Gaza over the two past years” is “one of the main causes of the crisis”:
– Thousands of Gazans whose homes and belongings were destroyed half a year ago remain without adequate shelter.
– Every day the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools of sewage is pumped directly and more or less untreated into the Mediterranean.
– Hospitals are struggling because complex and lengthy Israeli import procedures slow down the delivery of basic medical necessities such as painkillers and X-ray film developer, and seriously ill patients are not getting the treatment they need.
– Gazans are increasingly struggling to make ends meet: “The poorest residents in particular have exhausted their coping mechanisms and often have to sell off their belongings to be able to buy enough to eat,” according to Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in the territory. People are generally getting the calories they need, but only a few can afford a healthy and balanced diet, the report notes.

The report can be read in full here.

The report says that “A lasting solution requires fundamental changes in Israeli policy”.

The ICRC said, it is demanding that the restrictions on the movement of people and goods be lifted, including:
– reopening terminals to improve the flow of people and goods into and out of the territory;
– easing imports of medical equipment;
– allowing the entry of building materials such as cement and steel;
– lifting restrictions on exports from Gaza,
– allowing farmers access to their land in the buffer zone, and
– restoring safe access to deeper waters for fishermen.

The International Committee said it “calls on the States, political authorities and organized armed groups concerned to do what is needed to reopen the Gaza Strip and safeguard the life and dignity of its civilian population”.