Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head UN probe of Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun

Archbishop Tutu, who was an anti-Apartheid activist, and who later chaired the South African Human Rights Commission, has been named to head a team to go to Beit Hanoun and look into the 8 November shelling that the Israeli Government has said was a result of a technical error (see report below). The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 15 November calling for this investigation. It is not yet clear whether Israel will agree to cooperate. The UN General Assembly in New York has also voted to conduct its own fact-finding into the events surrounding the shelling.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour reports to UN Human Rights Council on her four days in Israel and the oPt

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told the UN’s  Human Rights Council on 29 November that “The human rights of Israelis and Palestinians cannot be the subject of negotiation or compromise. Those in power must fulfill their obligations in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law now so as to ensure that all throughout the region can enjoy their human rights. To do so is required by law and should be implemented by all those who profess to be sincerely committed to achieving a lasting peace”.

The High Commissioner stated that the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is “grave and worsening, within a general climate of impunity”.  She said that throughout her four-day visit to the region, she “promoted the need for accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

High Commissioner Arbour added that she was “struck…by the sense of vulnerabiliy and abandonment that was expressed to me by virtually all the civilians that I met, both in Israel and in the oPt.” 

She told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that, in her press conference in the region, she had “unfortunately not had the time to focus on the full range of rights at issue in the region.  I highlighted, in this regard, the question of all those imprisoned, captured or otherwise detained as a result of the crisis and I called for their rights, including access to them, to be respected in full”. 

UNRWA Report Says that Palestinians still show up for work, though their salaries are mostly not paid

A new report by UNRWA (the UN Agency providing humanitarian relief for Palestinian refugees) states that “Despite the non-payment of salaries,the labour force surveys confirm that Palestinian public employees continued to turn up for work and perform their duties throughout first-half 2006.  Thus the 160,000 plus public sector employees were counted as employed during this period even though they were not fully paid…

Under normal conditions, the 160,000 plus public employees should have received a total of about USD 565.6 million in salaries during first-half 2006.  In reality, they received the equivalent of only 2.5-months’ salary — USD 235.7 million during the six-month period — less than 42 percent their due…

The most direct and immediate effect of the non-payment of salaries was the loss by one-fourth of the work force of its main source of income.  With average households of about 6.3 persons in first-half 2006, the loss of income has directly affected more than one million persons — more than one-quarter of the oPt population…

The impact of the current phase of the economic crisis has hit refugees in the oPt harder than the population at large with respect to employment and poverty. Refugees are less likely to find work than non-refugees, they are more dependent on public sector employment than nonrefugees, they are more likely to be unemployed than non-refugees and they account for a higher ratio of those living in deep poverty.”

Israel accepts Palestinian proposal for Gaza cease-fire

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olment’s Media Adviser announced on Saturday night that a comprehensive cease-fire will enter into force [in Gaza] at 06:00 today (Sunday) 26.11.06. According to the Israeli Government press release, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned the Israeli Prime Minister “to inform him that he had reached agreement with all Palestinian factions to halt all violent actions from the Gaza Strip including rocket fire, the digging of tunnels, and the dispatch of suicide terrorists.”

There was no apparent UN involvement in this effort at crisis-resolution.

The Israeli press release stated that “PA Chairman Abbas told Prime Minister Olmert that all Palestinian organizations have committed to the foregoing and said that he expects that Israel will halt its military activity in the Gaza Strip in response and will withdraw its forces from the Strip”.

Israel had completed a unilateral withdrawal on 12 September 2005, before re-entering Gaza in June, after Palestinian fighters captured an Israeli soldier just over the border near the closed Gaza International Airport.

The Israeli press release said that there were Israeli Govenment consultations after the Palestinian President’s call: “Prime Minster Olmert consulted with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other ministers, and with senior security establishment commanders, and informed PA Chairman Abbas that since Israel has been active in the Gaza Strip in response to terrorist actions, in light of the ceasefire, Israel would halt its military actions and withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip in the hope that the cessation of violent activity will last and serve both sides.”

The Israel press release added that “The two men agreed to continue to discuss the expansion of the cessation of violent activity to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] in the future. They also agreed to speak again soon to continue these measures.”

The UN had no apparent role in this development.

Just a few hours earlier, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement blasting a remark made on 21 November by UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Konig Abu Zayd for referring to daily firing of Kassam rockets “and mortar shells” from the Gaza Stip, by using the “ostensibly naive” phrase of “homemade rockets”.

This reflects “a forgiving attitude toward the firing of Kassams”, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said, and it also minimizes “the danger and threat faced by Israeli civilians”. An Israeli civilian was killed last week in Sderot by a Kassam rocket, the Israeli Foreign Ministry Statement said.

The statement added that “the commissioner-general would do well to remember to insist that the Palestinian Authority honor the demands of the international community, which are anchored in a decision of the Security Council: to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel, and to honor agreements signed with Israel.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement concluded that “the commissioner-general’s words do not contribute to the cessation of terrorism, which is the key to improving the living conditions of the Palestinian population”.

On Sunday morning, news agency reports that Israel had pulled all of its forces out of Gaza and re-grouped them at a staging point just north of the border, but Palestinian rocket attacks continued. AP says that Hamas claimed that it was continuing firing rockets because there were still Israeli troops in Gaza, despite Israel’s claim to the contrary. Islamic Jihad was also still firing rockets according to AP, suggesting either that its leaders were not in full control of the group, or that there were communication problems.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had ordered restraint, at least for a few hours, AP reported.

On Sunday afternoon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a “Behind the Scene” note, stating that “Israel has begun withdrawing all of its forces from the Gaza Strip”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry note stated that “This decision was taken in an effort on Israel’s part both to bring about a calming of the situation and as a signal of Israel’s readiness to contribute to an improvement in the security and political condition of the region”. Tres bien [Very good]. One wonders, however, why it has taken so long to achieve Israeli readiness on this point.

There must have been some heavy arm-twisting (and not from the UN) behind the scenes to have brought this about.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry also wrote that “Israel is interested in maintaining a cease-fire as a means to end the violence and to enable progress in the political negotiations”. This is something many Palestinians have been calling for, for a long time.

But, the Israeli Foreign Ministry notes: “Israel is knowingly undertaking the risk that the terrorist organizations will exploit the cease-fire to rearm and to rebuild their infrastructure“.

And, the note warns: “that if the Palestinians do not observe the cease-fire completely, Israel will have no choice but to respond. It does not matter which organization carries out the firing — the obligation to observe the cease-fire absolutely applies to the Palestinian Authority, which bears the responsibility to enforce it without exception”.

For an interesting article giving some background on the situation in the oPt (occupied Palestinian territory, which is the official UN terminology for the West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel in June 1967 — based on the 1993-1995 “Oslo Accords”, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which insist that the West Bank and Gaza form one territorial unit), please see FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) Extra! of September-October 2006, Nixed Signals: When Hamas hinted at peace, U.S. media wouldn’t take the message, by Seth Ackerman here.

UN says International Mine Removal Experts Seriously Injured in Southern Lebanon by Recently-Placed Israeli Anti-Personnel Mine

Three United Nations mine-disposal experts were seriously injured in southern Lebanon on Friday 24 November by what the experts say were shiny new Israeli No. 4 Anti-Personnel Land-Mines laid recently, during Israel’s invasion last July and August. A Briton and a Bosnian expert each had to have feet amputated as a result of the injuries they suffered from the explosion. A Lebanese medic working with the team also was injured.

It was first thought that the three men were injured by cluster bomb remnants. But, a British team of demining experts sent to investigate on Saturday discovered they were in a mine field, and a fourth international expert was injured, and apparently also had to have one of his feet amputed, too.

The area was not marked for mines.

Israel also laid land-mines when it withdrew from Lebanon in May 2004, after an 18-year occupation of a strip of Southen Lebanon. Since then, Lebanon has repeatedly called for Israel to turn over maps showing the location of the mines it planted.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted on 11 August 2006, called on Israel to provide to the United Nations “all remaining maps of landmines in Lebanon in Israel’s possession.”

The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Southern Lebanon reports that as of 13 November it has mapped 813 Cluster Bomb strikes in 338 areas of southern Lebanon, delivered by rockets, artillery, or aircraft. The UN map of Cluster Bomb strikes is updated regularly, and can be found at

So far, the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UN MACC-SL) says, there have been 23 civilian fatalities and 140 injuries from all types of unexploded ordinance left over from the last summer’s invasion. It estimates that it will take 12 to 15 months to clear unexploded bomblets.

At UNHQ in NY on Monday and Tuesday 27-28 November, the UN Spokesman tried to get journalists interested in this sitaution:

“I was asked yesterday about the mines in southern Lebanon. In follow-up to the question as to where these mines came from, I was given this information by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations: The area where the mine incidents took place in Deir Mimas has yet to be subjected to a full-scale mine clearance. Once this is completed, the exact scope of the minefield will be known. During the operation to extract the casualties from the minefield, one No. 4 anti-personnel mine, which is manufactured in Israel was located by the clearance team. From the condition of the mine and the earth surrounding the mine, it is clear that the mine was laid recently. Prior to the conflict, the area in question had been actively used by local villagers [n.b., for agriculture, for tending their flocks, and for just living]. Once the results of the clearance activities are completed, as well as ongoing cooperative efforts with Israel to confirm details regarding the mine, further information will be provided. And there is today a meeting scheduled between UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). the Lebanese Armed Forces, and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) to discuss the issue of mines. But I don’t yet have a read-out of that meeting”…

Question from a journalist: This minefield in Deir Mimas in Southern Lebanon, did the Israelis provide any maps? Are they willing to privide any maps?

Spokesman: “There have been several meetings with the Israelis since their almost complete withdrawal from Southern Lebanon on the issue of mines. I understand they have provided us with some maps. We’re obviously going to talk with them about this particular mine. The mine was manufactured in Israel, but as we all know, weapons, mines, flow across borders the world over. So just the manufacture of the mine doesn’t always clearly indicate who may have laid that mine. What we do know is that the mine was manufactured in Israel, that it was recently laid…Who actually put the mine in this area we are not able to opine on.

UN Team Confirms Israeli Use of Phosphorous Bombs in Lebanon

AP has reported that Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, has said that recent tests confirmed “the use of white phosphorus-containing artillery and mortar ammunition” by the IDF during the conflict. Steiner said, however, that the UN team found no evidence of use of depleted uranium or other radioactive material during Israel’s month-long attack on Lebanon that ended on August 14. Steiner said the UN team collected samples from September 30 to October 21; these samples were taken to three European laboratories for testing.

If phosporous is not banned by international conventions, it should be.

Norway and Switzerland paid for the month-long investigation in Lebanon. UNEP reports that “The decision to undertake a post conflict assessment follows a request in early August from the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment.” It is, of course, easier for UNEP to make its announcement confirming Israel’s use of phosphorous weapons in Lebanon this past summer, after Israel already admitted it.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 22 October, in an article written by Meron Rapoport, that: “Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. White phosphorus causes very painful and often lethal chemical burns to those hit by it, and until recently Israel maintained that it only uses such bombs to mark targets or territory. The announcement that the Israel Defense Forces had used phosphorus bombs in the war in Lebanon was made by Minister Jacob Edery, in charge of government-Knesset relations. He had been queried on the matter by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) … Edery said: ‘The IDF made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground’. Edery also pointed out that international law does not forbid the use of phosphorus and that ‘ the IDF used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law’. Edery did not specify where and against what types of targets phosphorus munitions were used.”

The Haaretz article also reported that: “Phosphorus has been used by armies since World War I. During World War II and Vietnam the U.S. and British armies made extensive use of phosphorus. During recent decades the tendency has been to ban the use of phosphorus munitions against any target, civilian or military, because of the severity of the injuries that the substance causes. Some experts believe that phosphorus munitions should be termed Chemical Weapons (CW) because of the way the weapons burn and attack the respiratory system. As a CW, phosphorus would become a clearly illegal weapon. International Red Cross is of the opinion that there should be a complete ban on phosphorus being used against human beings and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of ‘incendiary weapons’, with phosphorus considered to be one such weapon. Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Third Protocol. In November 2004 the U.S. Army used phosphorus munitions during an offensive in Faluja, Iraq … Initially the U.S. denied that it had used phosphorus bombs against humans, but then acknowledged that during the assault targets that were neither civilian nor population concentrations were hit with such munitions. Israel also says that the use of incendiary munitions are not in themselves illegal”.  The Haaretz article on phosphorus use in warfare is here. l

The British newspaper The Independent reported on 23 October that “Israel has been accused by both the UN and human rights groups of firing up to four million cluster bombs into Lebanon during its war with Hizbollah, which ended in a UN-brokered ceasefire on 14 August. UN de-mining experts say up to one million of the cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten civilians, especially children who can mistake the ordnance for batteries or other small objects.” This article on Israel’s cluster bomb use in Lebanon in 2006 is here.

The Independent’s veteran correspondent Robert Fisk reported on 28 October that: “Israel has a poor reputation for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas – until journalists discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed to air. I saw two dead babies who, when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames. Israel officially denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon during the summer – except for ‘marking’ targets – even after civilians were photographed in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions … Then on Sunday, Israel suddenly admitted that it had not been telling the truth. Jacob Edery, the Israeli minister in charge of government-parliament relations, confirmed that phosphorous shells were used in direct attacks against Hizbollah, adding that “according to international law, the use of phosphorous munitions is authorised and the (Israeli) army keeps to the rules of international norms”. Asked by The Independent if the Israeli army had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon this summer, Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: ‘Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorised by international law or international conventions’. This, however, begs more questions than it answers.” Robert Fisk’s article in the Independent on Israel’s use of phosphorous weapons in Lebanon is here.

An excellent summary of reporting on white phosphorous, which illuminates how its use could be legal (for marking enemy positions, or masking of friendly troop movements), and how its use is not legal (when used as a weapon against human beings), see FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) Extra! of March-April 2006, Now It’s a Chemical Weapon, Now It’s Not: White phosphorus and the siege of Fallujah, also by Seth Ackerman is published here. .

In this report, Ackerman writes that: “On the excruciating effects of the substance, which burns the skin to the bone and cannot be extinguished with water, there’s little dispute: A New York Times article from the mid-1990s (3/22/95) explained that despite its ambiguous legal status, white phosphorous is one of “the worst chemical weapons” in existence, and noted that many of its civilian victims during World War II ‘were shot by German troops to end their suffering’.”

UN Looks into Deaths of 19 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun

A day after 19 Palestinians were killed in, or while fleeing, their homes at dawn in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, by Israel shelling, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) issued a statement about the attack in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, saying that: “All the evidence of the inquiry indicate that the Palestinian civilian casualties were caused by IDF artillery, and that the primary cause of the incident was a technical failure in the ‘Shilem’ System, which directs artillery fire. In light of the inquiry results, the Chief of Staff had instructed to halt all artillery fire aimed at the Gaza Strip until further technical, professional, and operational inquiries are completed“.

Some of the wounded Palestinians are being treated in Israeli hospitals.

The IDF statement added that: “The Chief of Staff expressed his regret for the civilian casualties as a result of the technical failure”

IDF Forces reportedly had pulled out of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza before the attack that hit a row of houses.

A statement was issued on in Geneva by the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, John Dugard, saying that: “On 25 June 2006 Israel embarked on a military operation in Gaza that has resulted in over 300 deaths, including many civilians; over a thousand injuries; large-scale devastation of public facilities and private homes; the destruction of agricultural lands; the disruption of hospitals, clinics and schools; the denial of access to adequate electricity, water and food; and the occupation and imprisonment of the people of Gaza. This brutal collective punishment of a people, not a government, has passed largely unnoticed by the international community. The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, has done little to halt Israel’s attacks. Worse still, the Security Council has failed to adopt any resolution on the subject or attempt to restore peace to the region. The time has come for urgent action on the part of the Security Council. Failure to act at this time will seriously damage the reputation of the Security Council.”

The United States later vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution condemning the attack on Beit Hanoun.

It also voted against a related resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on 17 November, which passed by 156 votes — despite other negative votes also cast by Israel, Canada, Ivory Coast, and several Pacific island-states. This resolution asked the Secretary-General to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun and to report back within 30 days on the circumstances surrounding Israel’s shelling of the town. It also asked the Quartet (the United States, Russian Federation, European Union and United Nations) to look into taking steps to stabilize the situation.

Earlier, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had voted to call for a UN investigation into the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun. UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour then made a five-day visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza Strip. At the conclusion of her trip on 23 November, the High Commissioner said that civilians on both sides expressed a feeling of abandonment by the international community. Ms. Arbour urged that discussion of the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as action to address it, should take place within the context of international human rights law.

UN Opens Register of Damages Caused by Israeli construction of a Barrier / Wall in the West Bank


The International Court of Justice in the Hague handed down a ruling on 9 July 2004 saying that the Barrier / Wall being constructed in the West Bank was illegal under international law.  In August 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing the ICJ ruling.

More than two years later, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a report suggesting the international framework required to set up a register of damages caused by Israel’s continuing construction work.  “The Secretary-General proposes to establish an office of the Register of Damages in Vienna. That office would include a Board comprised of three independent members, as well as a small secretariat”, the UN Spokesman reported in New York on Friday 27 October 2006.

On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague handed down an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. According to the press summary published by the ICJ, there are obligations on Israel, on other States, and on the United Nations — which are “legal consequences of the violation by Israel of its obligations”:

Israel is obliged to comply with the international obligations it has breached by the construction of the wall – Israel is obliged to put an end to the violation of its international obligations, including the obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall, to dismantle it forthwith and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith the legislative and regulatory acts relating to its construction, save where relevant for compliance by Israel with its obligation to make reparation for the damage caused – Israel obliged to make reparation for the damage caused to all natural or legal persons affected by construction of the wall.

All States have the obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction – and … to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self‑determination is brought to an end – and … while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention …
and the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, [need] to consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and its associated régime, taking due account of the Advisory Opinion.

That was the ICJ ruling in July 2004.

(Photo by Matt Robson – Bethlehem – new terminal under construction at Checkpoint 300 – July 2004)