GAZA: IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

SPECIAL FOCUS
May 2010

IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

This Special Focus draws attention to the range of measures currently impeding the humanitarian community’s ability to provide assistance to vulnerable Palestinians. The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory, however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that limit its ability to efficiently and effectively respond to existing needs.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“When the delivery of humanitarian access is restricted, lives are lost and misery prolonged needlessly.”1
John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that impede the provision of humanitarian aid to vulnerable Palestinians.

The current humanitarian operation in the oPt is one of the largest in the world; at the time of its launching in November 2009, the oPt Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2010 ranked fifth out of 12 appeals globally, in terms of requested assistance. Through the oPt CAP, UN agencies and international and national NGOs2 requested over US$ 660 million for 2010. This support is intended to help mitigate the worst impacts of on-going conflict on the most vulnerable Palestinians, who continue to face a human dignity crisis, characterized by the erosion of livelihoods and the continued denial of basic human rights; nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population is food-insecure and unemployment levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain high.3

The humanitarian operations outlined in the oPt’s CAP occur within the context of a prolonged Israeli military occupation in which policies to alter the status and character of the territory continue to be pursued contrary to international law. The situation in the Gaza Strip, in particular, presents severe impediments to humanitarian operations. Sweeping import restrictions imposed by Israel since June 2007 have either prevented the implementation of planned humanitarian projects or resulted in significant delays. For example, UNRWA reports that it has had 24 construction and infrastructure projects, totaling some US$ 109 million in donor funds, frozen as a result of the blockade. Among the affected projects are schools, health facilities, housing units, and sewage infrastructure. Additionally, the ‘no contact’ policy of some donors, prohibiting contact with the Hamas authorities, continues to affect some humanitarian organizations, while Hamas’s requests for compliance with its administrative procedures from UN agencies and NGOs have intensified. This ‘two-way’ tension is narrowing the operational independence of some organizations and, at times, restricts on-going humanitarian operations.

In the West Bank, humanitarian organizations face ongoing restrictions on movement and access. Policies include a permit regime required for staff from the West Bank to enter East Jerusalem, and continued access difficulties stemming from the deployment of hundreds of closure obstacles, among others. In particular, agencies mandated with service provision are limited in doing so in Area C, due to the restrictive planning regime applied by Israel and restrictions to obtaining building permits and difficulties accessing certain areas.

The humanitarian community’s primary concern with the measures outlined in this report is that they impede its ability to meet the needs of vulnerable Palestinians whose livelihoods have been reduced or destroyed by years of continued occupation, conflict and the denial of basic human rights.4 More than ever, immediate steps are required to reverse this trend.

A complete lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and improved Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank and external markets are just a few examples of measures that could significantly improve Palestinian livelihoods through a reduction in unemployment and poverty. Israel’s modest relaxation in recent months of some import restrictions, which have allowed for the entry to Gaza of a number of much needed, previously-restricted items, including glass, wood, and aluminum, among others, have been welcome improvements.

In addition, all parties to the conflict must abide by their international legal obligations to ensure the smooth passage of humanitarian relief and personnel, and that the humanitarian community is able to carry out its work effectively and efficiently. Additionally, there is a need for donor countries to strongly advocate for an improvement in the humanitarian situation and respect for humanitarian operations in their bilateral relations with the authorities concerned. Another necessary step is that relevant donor countries and affected humanitarian organizations re-evaluate their position vis-à-vis the ‘no contact’ policy, where humanitarian operations are concerned, as well as related funding restrictions. Finally, the humanitarian community needs financial support for initiatives designed to resolve or overcome access issues and other restrictions on humanitarian operations.

Endnotes
1Quoted in “OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Access,” April 2010. Original quote from an August 2009 op-ed.
2The humanitarian strategy under-pinning the 2010 CAP is supported by 236 projects, comprising 147 from the NGO community and 89 from UN agencies.

3For additional details on the parameters of the human dignity crisis, see OCHA oPt, “Locked In: The humanitarian impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip,” August 2009 and the oPt Consolidated Appeal for 2010.

4While the report draws attention to some of the specific ways in which the population is impacted, this subject is treated more fully in other OCHA oPt reports, so a detailed impact analysis is not included here. See, for example, regular OCHA oPt reports, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report” and the monthly “Humanitarian Monitor.” For the impact of specific restrictions, see OCHA oPt Special Focus reports, such as “Locked In”, August 2009, and “Restricting Space: The planning and zoning regime applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank,” December 2009.

REF: http://unispal.un.org/

FIGHT ISRAHELL VIDEO: Israeli diplomats ‘hazed’ on campus ( A MUST SEEE!)

The Israelis have a lot of experience dealing with asymmetrical warfare.  But they’re not exactly used to its latest manifestation, which could be coming to a college campus near you.

Committed activists let their frustrations be heard on Monday in two separate lectures delivered by senior Israeli diplomats.

While the videos go viral among students, its watching the tactics used at these events that must be leaving Israel unnerved.

Consider the way in which a mockery was made of Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who presented at the University of California at Irvine.

The New York-born former academic had nary a minute to get into his talking points when he himself was taken to school by angry students, at least one of whom shouted “propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!”

The heckling made it impossible for Oren to carry on, and persisted in spite of pleas and threats by audience members and promises of arrest by the rattled college rector.

Most of Oren’s detractors made reference to Israel’s actions during the  2009 Gaza War.

Israel is under heavy strain by UN officials and international rights organizations to be held accountable for crimes of war during the 17-day Israeli assault on Gaza.  Some from academia have defended Israel from the charges, including Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, who went so far as to attack UN Investigator Richard Goldstone with a provocative Hebrew word that translates as “traitor to the Jewish people”.

Ref: Al Jazeera

COP-15: Greenpeace asks: Money for war, not the planet? + Hopenhagen! (Naomi Klein)

NO WE CAN´T – Barack Obama’s speech disappoints and fuels frustration at Copenhagen

US president offers no further commitment on reducing emissions or on finance to poor countries. Barack Obama stepped into the chaotic final hours of the Copenhagen summit today saying he was convinced the world could act “boldly and decisively” on climate change.

But his speech offered no indication America was ready to embrace bold measures, after world leaders had been working desperately against the clock to try to paper over an agreement to prevent two years of wasted effort — and a 10-day meeting — from ending in total collapse.

Obama, who had been skittish about coming to Copenhagen at all unless it could be cast as a foreign policy success, looked visibly frustrated as he appeared before world leaders.

He offered no further commitments on reducing emissions or on finance to poor countries beyond Hillary Clinton’s announcement yesterday that America would support a $100bn global fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

He did not even press the Senate to move ahead on climate change legislation, which environmental organisations have been urging for months.

The president did say America would follow through on his administration’s clean energy agenda, and that it would live up to its pledges to the international community.

“We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say,” Obama said.

But in the absence of any evidence of that commitment the words rang hollow and there was a palpable sense of disappointment in the audience.

Instead, he warned African states and low island nations who have been resisting what they see as a weak agreement that the later alternative — no agreement — was far worse.

“We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years. But here is the bottom line: we can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation,” he said.

“Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.”

He also took a dig at China, drawing attention to its status as the world’s biggest emitter and reinforcing America’s hardline on the issue of accountability for greenhouse gas emissions.

The lacklustre speech proved a huge frustration to a summit that had been looking to Obama to use his stature on the world stage – and his special following among African leaders – to try to come to an ambitious deal.

The president was drawn into the chaos within minutes of his arrival at Copenhagen, ditching his schedule to take part in a meeting of major industrialised and rapidly emerging economies.

Responding to Obama’s speech, a British official said: “Gordon Brown is committed to doing all he can and will stay until the very last minute to secure a deal… but others also need to show the same level of commitment. The prospects of a deal are not great.”

Tim Jones, a spokesman for the World Development Movement, said: “The president said he came to act, but showed little evidence of doing so. He showed no awareness of the inequality and injustice of climate change. If America has really made its choice, it is a choice that condemns hundreds of millions of people to climate change disaster.”

Friends of the Earth said in a statement, “Obama has deeply disappointed not only those listening to his speech at the UN talks, he has disappointed the whole world.”

The World Wildlife Fund said Obama had let down the international community by failing to commit to pushing for action in Congress: “The only way the world can be sure the US is standing behind its commitments is for the president to clearly state that climate change will be his next top legislative priority.”

The extent of crisis in the talks has taken leaders by surprise. The Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, told the conference that the all-night negotiating sessions took him back to his days as a trade union leader negotiating with his bosses.

Ref: Guardian

FOCUS: OPINION What Goldstone says about the US

Opponents of the Goldstone report might well be hoping that after its lopsided condemnation in the US House of Representatives and successful relegation back to the UN’s Human Rights Commission, the report will become little more than an historical footnote in a decades-long conflict.

This might in fact occur, given the imbalance of power between the contending sides. But historians can do a great deal with footnotes.

When the glare of history is finally shone upon the whole affair, it might well turn out that the reasons for such vehement opposition from US politicians, and only tepid (at best) support for it among other major powers, have far more to do with their own geostrategic interests than with protecting Israel.

Back story

The report, written by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, has caused uproar in Israel and the US for its alleged bias against Israel and avoidance of serious criticism of Hamas. The condemnation, House Resolution 867, passed by a 344-36 vote.

Before the vote on the resolution, Goldstone sent a letter to members of Congress refuting most of the allegations contained in it. But his rebuttal did not lead to substantive changes in the report’s accusations and apparently had no effect on the vote.

Given the way in which opposition to the report unfolded it would be easy to conclude that this is merely another case of the vaunted Israel lobby shutting down any debate over Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories.

Yet while Israel’s supporters no doubt took the lead in pushing the resolution, there is a back story to this drama that has likely played an equally, if not more important, role in the firestorm it has generated.

Why would the House go so far out of its way to stamp out even the consideration of war crimes accusations against Israel? And why would Barack Obama, the US president, have pressured Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, not to push the report in the UN when he had to know that such actions would cost Abbas most of his little remaining credibility among Palestinians?

Accessory to war crimes

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, if Israel is guilty of committing systematic war crimes across Gaza and the West Bank, then the US, which supported, funded and armed Israel during the war, is an accessory to those crimes.

Goldstone explains in no uncertain terms that Gaza was not an aberration in terms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Rather, it marked not only a continuation of Israel’s behaviour during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, but “highlights a common thread of the interaction between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians which emerged clearly also in many cases discussed in other parts of the report”.

It referenced “continuous and systematic abuse, outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment contrary to fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law”.

“The Mission concludes that the treatment of these civilians constitutes the infliction of a collective penalty on those persons and amounts to measures of intimidation and terror. Such acts are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and constitute a war crime,” the report says.

Put simply, if there is blood on Israel’s hands, than it is has dripped all over America’s shirt.

Israel could not and would not have engaged in the level of wholesale destruction of Gaza painstakingly catalogued in the report without the support of the outgoing Bush administration, and acquiescence of the incoming Obama administration.

Israeli narrative challenged

Not only that, but on the same day the report was released the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s military leadership is preparing the country for yet another invasion of Gaza in the near future.

Goldstone’s report accuses Israel of using collective punishment in Gaza [EPA]
It is not clear how much of Gaza is left to be destroyed, but the report’s detailed discussion of Israel’s attacks on innumerable homes, mosques, schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities show what lengths Israel will go to to punish Gazans, and Palestinians more broadly.

There is also the larger context of the peace negotiations. If Israel can be guilty of humanitarian crimes at this level, then it puts the entire Israeli narrative about the occupation – that it is ultimately about preserving the country’s security – into question.

In fact, the report declares precisely this, in paragraph 1674, when it argues that the Gaza invasion “cannot be understood and assessed in isolation from developments prior and subsequent to it. The operation fits into a continuum of policies aimed at pursuing Israel’s political objectives with regard to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a whole”.

Almost everyone outside the US, including in Israel, understands that the occupation has always been about settlement, not security, since Israel could have militarily occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 indefinitely without establishing a single settlement, and could withdraw from all its settlements tomorrow and maintain a military occupation until it felt secure enough to turn the territory over to Palestinians.

As famed general Moshe Dayan once put it, the settlements in the Occupied Territories are essential “not because they can ensure security better than the army, but because without them we cannot keep the army in those territories. Without them the IDF would be a foreign army ruling a foreign population”.

But the US remains heavily invested in maintaining this security narrative; both because it is the core of the strategic alliance between the two countries with all the military, strategic and financial implications that come with it, and because, as with the Gaza invasion, the settlement enterprise could never have proceeded without US support, or at least acquiescence.

This dynamic continues to operate today, as the same day House Resolution 867 was passed, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, explained that the US preferred to return to peace talks even without a settlement freeze, despite the fact that not stopping settlement construction during negotiations has been deemed by former senior Israeli negotiators such as Moshe Ben Ami and Yossi Beilin as among the single biggest factors dooming the Oslo peace process.

The Obama administration refuses even to push the parameters painstakingly set by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, before leaving office, to which both Israelis and Palestinians were very close to agreeing.

Alarming precedent

One has to wonder whether the US Middle East policy-making establishment, which is dominated by defence and security interests, is even interested in bringing about a speedy resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beyond what the Goldstone report says about America’s role in Israel’s actions, the report holds a mirror up to US actions in its ‘war on terror’. In so doing it paints for US policy-makers and politicians a more frightening picture of a future in which all countries are held accountable for their actions.

Here it becomes clear that, as it has been for four decades, Israel is both the spear and the shield for the projection – and protection – of US power in the Middle East. It engages in activities the US cannot do openly, and it acts as the first line of defence when US interests might be attacked diplomatically.

In going after Israel, the report, however unintended, is going after the US, which has committed many of the same crimes (of which Israel is accused) in its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps through its drone attacks, in Pakistan and other countries. This is the report’s true danger, and why – from the US perspective – its accusations against Israel cannot stand.

Specifically, the idea of treating a Western-allied state, Israel, and a resistance movement, Hamas, as equally capable of committing war crimes and being held accountable for them, sets an alarming precedent for the US as its engagement in Iraq stretches on indefinitely and deepens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Why not hold the US (or Pakistan, China, Russia, or India for that matter) to the same standards as we hold the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or opposition movements in Kashmir, Chechnya or Tibet? None of these powers would allow this to happen.

Universal jurisdiction

Moreover, the report condemns the “Dahiya doctrine,” which involved the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.

Although claiming to work hard to protect civilians in the countries it is occupying, one of the primary complaints against the US by citizens of Afghanistan or Iraq is the frequent killing of civilians and destruction of infrastructure, particularly if it could be deemed to be “supporting infrastructure” for “terrorists”.

And when such abuses are committed, paragraph 121 of the report reminds the world that “international human rights law and humanitarian law require states to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute allegations of serious violations by military personnel”.

This is an indirect stab at the US judicial system, which has so far failed to hold anyone but a few low-level soldiers accountable for the numerous abuses committed by the US in Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ more broadly.

Perhaps the most dangerous suggestion in this regard is the report’s call for applying “universal jurisdiction” to the conflict.

As paragraph 127 states: “In the context of increasing unwillingness on the part of Israel to open criminal investigations that comply with international standards, the mission supports the reliance on universal jurisdiction as an avenue for states to investigate violations of the grave breach [of the] provisions of the Geneva Conventions.”

There is no power that wants its officials or military and security personnel subject to prosecution by other countries.

Uncritical victimology

In this regard, it is not coincidental that the same day resolution 867 was passed an Italian court convicted 23 former CIA agents of participating in the illegal rendition of an Italian imam, who claims he was subsequently tortured in captivity.

Have US policy interests in the Middle East impacted their rejection of the report? [AFP]
In June, the Italian newspaper il Giornale published an interview with Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s Milan station chief, in which he admitted, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism”.

This is a crucial statement, for it reveals that the US establishment believes that in a ‘war on terror’, there are no legal limits to what it can do. And if Israel is condemned for the same attitude, this would vitiate America’s ability to take whatever actions it desires, however illegal, to pursue its interests.

Obama might not take such actions, but his successors might. And if another major terrorist attack were to occur on US soil, there is little doubt that the gloves would once again come off, whether Obama wanted to keep them on or not.

In such a situation, the psychology of uncritical victimology that characterised post-9/11 America will be crucial to enabling such policies to be (re)put in place.

As the report quotes an Israeli professor (paragraph 1703): “Israeli society’s problem is that because of the conflict, Israeli society feels itself to be a victim and to a large extent that’s justified and it’s very difficult for Israeli society to move and to feel that it can also see the other side and to understand that the other side is also a victim.” This problem is equally difficult for Americans to overcome.

Report’s historical imprint

Among the final coincidences accompanying the passage of resolution 867 was its release the day after Clinton held a high-profile meeting in Morocco to champion the country’s recent official promotion of democracy.

But in her celebration of the Moroccan example she neglected to mention that press freedoms, the core of any democratic system, are suffering increasing restrictions in the country. Freedom of speech or challenging the country’s political-economic elite remains heavily circumscribed, especially when it comes from the country’s principal Islamically motivated opposition movement.

Of course, Clinton cannot push too hard for democracy in the Muslim world; democratically-elected governments would not tolerate many of the US’ core policies in the region, from uncritical support for Israel to its own military and economic alliances and activities.

The day after her Morocco meeting, Clinton was in Egypt, meeting once again with the Egypt’s autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak, with not a word about democracy.

Against such policy interests, it might well be that the Goldstone report will be relegated to history without being acted upon.

What few of its opponents understand is just how big an imprint this most exhaustive study of the Israeli occupation will leave.

It might not help Palestinians and Israelis achieve peace today, but future historians will likely look upon it as a crucial document in exposing the realities of the American dominated Middle Eastern system for the world to see.

Ref:Aljazeera

Mark LeVine is currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His most recent books include Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009) and Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel-Palestine (Rowman Littlefield, 2008).

 

Also read. ‘Might not right for Israel’

VIDEO: UN human rights council backs Gaza war crimes report

UN human rights council backs Gaza war crimes report

A vote to endorse a highly critical report (pdf) on the Gaza war passed at the UN human rights council in Geneva today, despite opposition from the US and Israel.

The council approved a resolution endorsing the report, which was written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone and accused Israel and the Islamist group Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war.

It said the report should go to the UN general assembly for consideration. The resolution condemned “the recent Israeli violations of human rights in occupied east Jerusalem”, referring to recent demolitions of Palestinian houses and excavation work near the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount.

The vote passed with 25 votes in favour, six against and 11 abstentions.

The US said the report was “flawed” and voted against. US diplomat Douglas Griffiths told the council Washington was disappointed by the vote.

Britain and France did not take part in the vote, having unsuccessfully argued for more time to reach an agreed resolution.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are among the 47 nations with seats on the human rights council, but both had worked hard to influence the outcome of the vote. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, wanted the council to reject the Goldstone report.

“Israel’s only real crime is that it does not have an automatic majority in the UN,” he said yesterday. “We hope that all responsible countries will … vote against that decision, which aids and encourages terror and strikes at peace.”

Douglas Griffiths, the US delegate at the council, said yesterday that Washington wanted Israel to carry out its own investigations. It was important, he said, to “be mindful of the larger context of ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state”.

Under intense US pressure, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, initially dropped his efforts to secure a vote endorsing the report. Instead he decided to put off the vote for another six months. But that was greeted with such an outcry among Palestinians that Abbas quickly backtracked and called for a special session of the human rights council to hold a vote.

The Israeli website Ynet News today quoted him as saying that the vote helped provide “leverage for protecting the Palestinians against Israel”.

Israel’s foreign ministry is expected to issue a statement later today condemning the vote. Officials have said it was “unjust and biased and does not contribute to the peace process”, according to the broadcaster al-Jazeera.

Goldstone’s report accused both sides of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and said there may even be individual criminal responsibility over the killing of civilians. Around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the three-week war.

Goldstone’s recommendations were that the human rights council should endorse his findings and then pass his report to the UN security council, the general assembly and the prosecutor of the international criminal court. He said both Israel and Hamas should be given six months to conduct their own “appropriate investigations that are independent and in conformity with international standards”. If either side failed to investigate properly, he said, the security council should pass the case on to the prosecutor of the international criminal court.

Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.

Ref: guardian

Reflection: Terrorist jews killed the Swedish UN Peace negoiator Folke Bernadotte

During the fight for Jewish statehood, extremist military groups sometimes resorted to the use of terrorist tactics. One such instance occurred in 1948 when members of the Jewish underground organization LEHI  (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) killed UN  Peace Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte to protest his diplomatic efforts to modify the Palestine partition plan.

Bernadotte, a Swede with family ties to the Swedish King, gained international recognition through his work as head of the Swedish Red Cross during World War II. Bernadotte used his position to negotiate with Heinrich Himmler and save thousands of Jews from concentration camps, although many argue that he could have done more had he been less cautious in negotiations.

A diplomat fluent in six languages, Bernadotte was appointed mediator of the UN General Assembly on May 20, 1948, and was immediately faced with the volatile situation in the Middle East. Arabs and Jews had been fighting over Palestine for decades and the conflict escalated after the adoption of the UN partition resolution on November 29, 1947. When Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, five Arab armies invaded Israel.

On June 11, Bernadotte succeeded in arranging a 30-day cease-fire. After visiting Cairo, Beirut, Amman and Tel Aviv, he came to the conclusion that the UN partition plan was an “unfortunate” resolution and proposed his own plan to unite the two feuding peoples. Instead of establishing individual states, he suggested that Arabs and Jews form a “union” consisting of a small Jewish entity and an enlarged Transjordan. Haifa and Lydda (Lod) airport would become free zones. Israel would receive the Western Galilee and unlimited immigration for two years, after which the UN would take control of the issue. Between 250,000 and 300,000 Arab refugees would be permitted to return to Arab territory with compensation and Transjordan would control the Negev and, despite Israeli claims, Jerusalem.

The Arab world rejected the Bernadotte plan on the grounds that, as Syrian officer Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib said, “Most of these mediators are spies for the Jews anyway.” The Israeli government, hating the idea of giving up Jerusalem and bent on military victory, quickly followed suit. Fighting resumed on July 8 and the Israeli army gained strength and succeeded in pushing back the Arabs until a second UN cease-fire was declared on July 18, this time with no time limit and a threat of economic sanctions against any country that broke it.

One organization that saw Bernadotte’s efforts as a threat was LEHI, a Jewish underground group that, under the leadership of Yitzhak Shamir, Dr. Israel Scheib and Nathan Friedman-Yellin, had waged a campaign of “personal terror” to force the British out of Palestine. LEHI called Bernadotte a British agent who had cooperated with the Nazis in World War II. The organization considered his plan to be a threat to its goal of Israeli independence on both banks of the Jordan River. Commander Yehoshua Zeitler of the Jerusalem branch of LEHI started training four men to kill Bernadotte, and solicited information from two sympathetic journalists about his schedule. LEHI leaders decided to assassinate Bernadotte while he was on his way to a meeting with Dov Joseph, military governor of Jerusalem’s New City, which was scheduled for either 4:30 p.m. on September 17 or sometime on September 18 (the exact date is disputed).

On September 16, Bernadotte flew to Beirut and spent the day there. At 9:30 a.m. on Friday, September 17, he boarded his UN Dakota plane for the 45 minute flight to Jerusalem. After arriving in Palestine, Bernadotte’s day started with a shot hitting an armored car in his convoy while he was visiting Ramallah. No one was hurt and, according to army liaison officer Moshe Hillman, Bernadotte was proud of the bullet hole and showed Hillman the UN flag that had saved him.

Bernadotte’s appointment with Joseph was rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. that day. Bernadotte spent time at the official UN headquarters at the YMCA and at Government House, a potential headquarters for a UN mission. He visited the Jerusalem Agricultural School where he picked up French UN observer Andre Seraut who took the center seat in the UN car, immediately to Bernadotte’s left. The three car convoy then headed back to the YMCA to pick up a copy of the truce regulations before the meeting with Joseph.

Meanwhile, LEHI terrorists adapted their plans to the new meeting time and an Israeli military jeep carrying a driver named Meshulam Makover and four assassins was dispatched to Palmeh Street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Old Katamon. At 5:03 p.m., the UN convoy drove up and found the jeep blocking its path. The terrorists, wearing khaki shorts and peaked caps, left their jeep, found Bernadotte in the second car of the convoy and one man, later discovered to be Yehoshua Cohen, fired a Schmeisser automatic pistol into the car, spraying the interior with bullets and killing Seraut and then Bernadotte. The other LEHI members shot the tires of the rest of the convoy and all the terrorists escaped to the religious community of Sha’arei Pina where they hid with haredi (ultra-religious) LEHI sympathizers for a few days before fleeing to Tel Aviv in the back of a furniture truck.

Both Seraut and Bernadotte were transported to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, but were found to have died instantly. Bernadotte had been hit six times. On September 18, his body was flown to Haifa and then to Sweden, where he was buried on his wife’s birthday. The Israeli government subsequently cracked down on LEHI, arresting many of its members and confiscating their arms. LEHI disbanded, largely due to public condemnation.

While the world mourned for Bernadotte, some in Israel, such as former Tehiya Member of Knesset and former LEHI radio announcer Geula Cohen, saw it as just another death in war, no more immoral than other killings committed during the long Arab-Israeli conflict. Cohen considers the assassination to have been an effective measure “because we prevented the internationalization of Jerusalem.” Others, however, such as Hebrew University professor Joseph Heller, argue that the killing actually provoked support for the Bernadotte plan by making its author into a martyr. The plan was never implemented, but whether its failure was due to the assassination or simply because of Israeli military strength and other outside factors is pure speculation.

Yitzhak Shamir reputedly played a role in planning the assassination; however, he was never tried and went on to become Prime Minister of Israel.

Ref: jewishvirtuallibrary.org

Also read:  Israel’s forgotten hero: The assassination of Count Bernadotte – and the death of peace

VIDEO: Seeking a cluster bomb ban (Israel wants to keep murdering)

Diplomats from around the world are in Dublin for a conference that aims to secure a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs.

The proposed ban has the support of more than 100 countries.

UN torture watchdog demands access to secret jail – Israel’s Guantanamo Bay

By Jonathan Cook

Nazareth, Israel – The United Nation’s watchdog on torture has criticised Israel for refusing to allow inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics as “Israel’s Guantanamo Bay”, and demanded to know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating.

In a report published on Friday, the Committee Against Torture requested that Israel identify the location of the camp, officially referred to as “Facility 1391”, and allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Findings from Israeli human rights groups show that the prison has in the past been used to hold Arab and Muslim prisoners, including Palestinians, and that routine torture and physical abuse were carried out by interrogators.

The UN committee’s panel of 10 independent experts also found credible the submissions from Israeli groups that Palestinian detainees were systematically tortured despite the banning of such practices by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999.

The existence of Facility 1391 came to light in 2002, when Palestinians were detained there for the first time during Israel’s reinvasion of the West Bank.

In a submission to human rights groups last week, Israel denied that any prisoners are currently being held at the site, although it admits that several Lebanese were detained there during the attack on Lebanon in 2006. The committee expressed concern about an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that found it “reasonable” for the state not to investigate suspicions of torture at the prison. The panel is believed to be concerned that without inspections the prison might still be in use or could be revived at short notice.

The Israeli court, the committee wrote, “should ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment by detainees in Facility 1391 be impartially investigated [and] the results made public”.

Hamoked, an Israeli human rights organisation, first identified the prison after two Palestinian cousins seized in Nablus in 2002 could not be traced by their families. Israeli officials eventually admitted that the pair were being held at a secret site.

Israel still refuses to identify the precise location of the prison, which is inside Israel and about 100km north of Jerusalem. A few buildings are visible, but most of the prison is built underground.

“We only learnt about the prison because the army made the mistake of putting Palestinians there when they ran out of room in Israel’s main prisons,” said Dalia Kerstein, the director of Hamoked.

“The real purpose of the camp is to interrogate prisoners from the Arab and Muslim world, who would be difficult to trace because their families are unlikely to contact Israeli organisations for help.”

Ms Kerstein said the prison site was an even grosser violation of international law than Guantanamo Bay because it had never been inspected and no one knew what took place there.

According to the testimonies of the Palestinian cousins, Mohammed and Bashar Jadallah, they were held in isolation cells measuring two metres square, with black walls, no windows and a light bulb on 24 hours a day. On the rare occasions they were escorted outside, they had to wear blacked-out goggles.

When Bashar Jadallah, 50, asked where he was, he was told he was “on the moon”.

According to the testimony of Mohammed Jadallah, 23, he was repeatedly beaten, his shackles tightened, he was tied in painful positions to a chair, he was not allowed to go to the toilet and he was prevented from sleeping, with water thrown on him if he nodded off. Interrogators are also reported to have shown him pictures of family members and threatened to harm them.

Although Palestinians passing through the prison were interrogated by the domestic secret police, the Shin Bet, foreign nationals at the prison fall under the responsibility of a special wing of military intelligence known as Unit 504, whose interrogation methods are believed to be much harsher.

Shortly after the prison came to light, a former inmate – Mustafa Dirani, a leader of the Lebanese Shia group Amal – launched a court case in Israel claiming he had been raped by a guard.

Mr Dirani, seized from Lebanon in 1994, was held in Facility 1391 for eight years along with a Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid. Israel hoped to extract information from the pair in its search for a missing airman, Ron Arad, downed over Lebanon in 1986.

Mr Dirani alleged in court that he had been physically abused by a senior army interrogator known as “Major George”, including an incident when he was sodomised with a baton.

The case was dropped in early 2004 when Mr Dirani was released in a prisoner exchange.

Ms Kerstein said there was no proof that more prisons existed in Israel like Facility 1391, but some of the testimonies collected from former inmates suggested that they had been held at different secret locations.

She said the concern was that Israel might have been one of the countries that received “extraordinary rendition” flights, in which prisoners captured by the United States were smuggled to other countries for torture.

“If a democracy allows one of these prisons, who is to say that there are not more?” she said.

The committee examined other suspicions of torture involving Israel. It expressed particular concern about Israel’s failure to investigate more than 600 complaints made by detainees against the Shin Bet since the panel’s last hearings, in 2001.

It also highlighted the pressure put on Gazans who needed to enter Israel for medical treatment to turn informer.

Ishai Menuchin, executive director of Israel’s Public Committee against Torture, said his group had sent several submissions to the committee showing that torture was systematically used against detainees.

“After the court decision in 1999, interrogators simply learnt to be more creative in their techniques,” he said.

He added that, since Israel’s redefinition of Gaza as an “enemy state”, some Palestinians seized there were being held as “illegal combatants” rather than “security detainees”.

“In those circumstances, they might qualify for incarceration in secret prisons like Facility 1391.”

Ref: The nation

Israel’s Cast Lead, Palestine’s Sharpeville

It has been just over three months since Israel unilaterally declared an end to operation Cast Lead and withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip following its 22 day onslaught there. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), a total of 1,434 people were killed in the operation, approximately 960 of them civilians. Of these, nearly 300 victims were children. This, in addition to the 5000 plus who were injured, and the growing number of deaths due to the ongoing siege.

Other reports have indicated that over 20,000 buildings have been partially or completely destroyed, leaving an estimated one sixth of Gaza ruined and entire neighbourhoods obliterated. The already overburdened and crumbling infrastructure of Gaza is now on the brink of total collapse, exacerbated by the refusal of Israeli and Egyptian authorities to allow construction materials into the besieged territory.

Shocking as these few figures may be, of much greater concern is the manner in which our political leaders responded to this catastrophe as it unfolded.

Israel’s operation Cast Lead was a defining moment in recent history, bringing to light many truths about the condition of the society in which we live. The most obvious of these was the complete and utter failure of so-called world leaders and modern political diplomacy at a time when it was needed most.

While the IDF systematically violated seemingly every tenet of international law, our supposed leaders sat by and left the defenseless people of Gaza to face the fury of the world’s third largest army on their own. Aside from the sheer scale of the Israeli army’s attacks on Gaza, the most astounding phenomenon of those 22 days was the inability of the world’s leaders to take a united stand to bring about an end to the violence.

While the UN Security Council worked and re-worked a resolution to ensure its “appropriate wording” (read: not offend Zionist sensitivities), the Arab League bickered about which side of the Palestinian political divide they were actually on. It took the Arab League days before they could even reach agreement on such a simple task as releasing a statement condemning the violence.

And when the editing and arguing was finally complete in the plush halls of New York and Doha, the hopeful masses around the world were only further disappointed, nay disgusted, with the lackluster results of our elected representatives’ efforts. While we waited for our leaders to exert real diplomatic pressure on Israel, all they had were watered down words of discouragement. They urged Israel to “exercise restraint” and expressed “concern” at the unfolding catastrophe on the ground, while Gazans were screaming for help.

Not a single influential head of state had the guts to openly criticize Israel or ask them to stop. And of course, when any half-hearted statement indirectly suggested that the IDF’s conduct was becoming a matter of concern, it was quickly qualified with the same standard line: that Hamas should cease firing rockets. Just to remind everyone that Hamas had actually started the fight, and that it really was up to them whether it would continue or not. When Hamas had respected the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire for the preceding six months while the IDF continued its incursions into Gaza, this was however not recognized. As usual, the Palestinians were again being blamed for bringing the latest massacre upon themselves.

In its opening paragraphs, the United Nations charter states its determination to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, and establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising out of international law can be maintained.” After Israeli forces bombed several UN facilities in Gaza, including a school housing refugees and a warehouse containing food and relief aid, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided to pay Gaza a visit.

His press conference made for quite dramatic viewing as he addressed journalists in front of the blackened and still smoldering UN warehouse. Appearing angered, he labeled the incident “an outrageous and unacceptable attack on the United Nations”, and called for a full investigation into the matter, as well as an explanation from Israeli authorities. Bold words indeed.

Released last week, that report concluded that Israel was directly responsible for attacking seven UN facilities during the offensive. It accused the Israeli army of “varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to UN premises and to the safety of UN staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property”.

Though Ki-moon commissioned the investigation, he was rather quick to distance himself from its findings. Instead of laying out the report’s damning details, he praised Israel for its co-operation, stressed that its findings were not legally binding and said that he had no plans to act on the report’s recommendation to launch a broader investigation. One wonders what the purpose of calling for an investigation in the first place was then. Perhaps it was just an attempt to deflect criticism from the UN at the time for its embarrassing inability to uphold its basic founding ideals as outlined above, or protect its own employees and property for that matter.

The only two countries of which I am aware that took genuine punitive diplomatic measures were Venezuela and Mauritania, who closed down their Israeli embassies and expelled the ambassadors. But for the most part, the international community turned their backs on Gaza.

When leaders fail to act, a natural reaction is for ordinary people to rise up and take matters into their own hands. In the history of all struggles against oppression, there is usually a defining moment, or tipping point which sparks a wave of change that ultimately changes the course of history for good. This was the case on 21 March 1960 in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa.

Fed up with Apartheid policies, and specifically Pass Laws, thousands of black youth converged on the Sharpeville police station, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying the pass books that the Apartheid government required all blacks to carry. Outnumbered and feeling threatened, the 20 or so police officers present opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people and injuring nearly 200.

The ensuing uproar saw mass protests, strikes and riots across the country, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency and detain thousands of people. A storm of international protest followed the shootings, including sympathetic demonstrations in many countries and condemnation from the United Nations.

After receiving complaints from 29 member states, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 134, voicing the Council’s anger at the actions of the Government, and calling upon it to abandon Apartheid. The Sharpeville shootings also played a pivotal role in South Africa’s expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations the following year, as well as the shift from passive resistance to armed resistance by the ANC and other political parties.

This was South Africa’s tipping point in the struggle against Apartheid. From that point onwards, the Apartheid regime found itself increasingly isolated and boycotted by the international community. The most damaging aspect of this isolation however, was the economic, sporting and cultural boycott implemented by ordinary people across the world.

Pressure by American students on their universities to divest from South Africa saw billions of dollars of educational trust fund assets being withdrawn from the South African economy. Nelson Mandela is in fact quoted as saying that the University of California’s divestment campaign played a significant role in the abolishment of white-minority rule in South Africa.

Additionally, economic sanctions and the withdrawal of several multinational corporations pushed the South African economy and government to near bankruptcy.

Much like Sharpeville, I believe that the tipping point in Palestine’s struggle against decades of repressive Israeli occupation was operation Cast Lead. In an unprecedented outpouring of support and sympathy for Palestinians not witnessed in years, millions across the world took to the streets in protest at the Israeli army’s brutal attack on Gaza. The world finally appears to have woken from its slumber.

And much like the events following Sharpeville, the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is once again being spearheaded by ordinary people of conscience across the world. Following protests and ‘occupations’ of several university campuses in the US and UK, the trustees of these universities have for the first time been forced to agree to start divesting educational trust fund money from Israel.

In August last year, the Free Gaza Movement successfully docked two boats in Gaza’s main port, the first international boats to dock in Gaza in more than 40 years. This was also the first time in 60 years that Palestinians had entered or left their country without having to undergo Israeli interrogation. This was followed up by six more successful aid boat voyages to Gaza, with another planned for June this year.

In February, Durban dock workers refused to offload Israeli cargo from a ship, while an Australian dock workers union resolved to support the international BDS campaign and boycott all vessels coming from or going to Israel. A recent poll in Israel found that 21% of Israeli exporters have been directly affected by boycotts since the beginning of 2009. And it was recently reported that French transport giant Veolia has lost some $7.5 billion in contracts due to its involvement in the Jerusalem light rail project which is threatening Palestinian homes.


In March, British MP George Galloway and his Viva Palestina aid convoy took 110 vehicles and over $1 million of aid through the Rafah crossing into Gaza after an 8,000 km trek across Europe. From all corners of the globe, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things. The world’s most powerful governments are being put to shame as regular folk are achieving what diplomacy has failed to achieve in decades.

It is unfortunate that often, only after the worst of calamities has occurred, that the best qualities of the human spirit become visible. The outright moral failure of our leaders regarding Gaza is being matched only by the creativity and determination of the global solidarity movement. The momentum gained over the last few months needs to be maintained and increased, until freedom, justice and normality is returned to Palestine, as it was to South Africa. And the message to our leaders is loud and clear: If you do not act, we will.

Ref: Palestine Chronicle

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.