Occupied: Headlines From Palestine

Blogging From Gaza, Palestine


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War Crime: Israeli Occupation Invites Bids For 77 Illegal East Jerusalem Squatter Homes

ERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli authorities invited tenders on Monday for the construction of 77 homes in settlement neighborhoods of occupied  East Jerusalem, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran told AFP it was the first such announcement in East Jerusalem since a March 17 general election win by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party.The watchdog said 36 of them were being offered in Neve Yaakov and another 41 in neighboring Pisgat Zeev. Both are located at the northern edge of East Jerusalem.Peace Now said the tenders could be seen as a sign of the future inclinations of the rightwing religious coalition government that Netanyahu is currently putting together. “Publication of these tenders in east Jerusalem is liable to be an indicator from Netanyahu’s transitional government of what can perhaps be expected — God forbid — when the new government is formed,” it said.”Instead of changing direction and showing that Israel is ready for peace, Netanyahu is sticking to the line he held during his election campaign and seeking to prevent the chance of peace.”The day before the election, Netanyahu vowed that if reelected he would build thousands of settler homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem to prevent future concessions to the Palestinians. Israel seized east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.Israel refers to both halves of the city as its “united, undivided capital” and does not see construction in the occupied east as settlement building.The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to serve as the capital of their future state, but successive Israeli leaders have vowed that Jerusalem will never again be divided.”I won’t let that happen. My friends and I in Likud will preserve the unity of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said during a March 16 visit to the contentious settlement neighborhood of Har Homa.”We will continue to build in Jerusalem, we will add thousands of housing units, and in the face of all the (international) pressure, we will persist and continue to develop our eternal capital.”


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US Supporting War Crimes: US Court Rejects Lawsuit Against Charity Funding Of Illegal Settlements

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The US Court of Appeals in New York has rejected an appeal from a group of 13 Palestinians seeking damages for alleged “terrorist attacks” by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Israeli media reported Friday.The complaint was filed against US-based charities that financially support settlements, alleging that such support leads to terrorist activity and is in violation of US anti-terrorism laws, reported Israeli news source Jewish Telegraphic Agency.The USA Patriot Act enacted in October 2001 prohibits citizens from “knowingly providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” Plaintiffs in the case argued that charities were financially supporting terrorist activity by funding settlers who have carried out acts of violence against Palestinians and their land, and desecrated houses of prayer.Charities accused in the case included Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, the Hebron Fund, Central Fund of Israel, One Israel Fund and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim.After District Judge Jesse Furman initially rejected the case last year, the appeal was rejected again this week by a panel of appellate judges.”American federal judges recognize the difference between the financing of murder and violence… and legitimate bona fide financial support of the daily needs of peaceful Israeli settlements over the Green Line,” Israeli Haaretz quoted attorney Nathan Lewin, who represented the charities in the trials.
Privately funded violence
The dismissal of the case is a setback for those fighting to shed light on private US funding that is currently helping to sustain illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, as well as the violence that results from it.While the U.S. government has condemned ongoing settlement expansion, its citizens have been able to freely donate millions to the illegal enclaves.The New York Times identified at least 40 American groups in 2010 that had collected over $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last decade.Israeli watchdog Americans for Peace Now have long fought against tax-exempt donations to settlements.
Among other criticisms, the groups point out that IRS regulations exempting charities from tax deduction define a charitable organization as one that “includes relief of the poor and distressed or of the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening of the burdens of government; promotion of social welfare.”Such a definition does not extend to charities funneling funds to the Jewish-only settlements of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the group argues, and such donations should not be tax-exempt.The court ruling on the 13 Palestinians’ appeal is only the latest example of a number of cases in which Israeli settlers have gained legal backing from the US government for illegal practices.Attacks carried out with impunityHuman rights groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have long fought for effective Israeli law enforcement against the type of violent acts committed by Israeli settlers that the 13 Palestinians were drawing attention to.Such acts are often termed “price-tag attacks,” and are carried out to retaliate perceived pressure from both Israeli and foreign governments against settlements, most often with Palestinian civilians as their victims.
They are nearly always carried out with impunity from the law.Following price-tag attacks on Vatican-owned offices in occupied East Jerusalem in May 2014, Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the government planned to begin using administrative detention against suspected extremists.Although Israeli police had made scores of arrests before that time, there had been few successful prosecutions for price-tag attacks and the government was facing mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.The US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism discussed price-tag attacks for the first time in 2013, citing UN figures of some “399 attacks by extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage.”The report said such attacks were “largely unprosecuted.”


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Did Israel’s ‘Hannibal Directive’ Lead to a War Crime in Gaza?

(Reuters) – The July-August war in Gaza drew international condemnation for a number of reasons, but one episode proved more deadly than any other: an Israeli air and artillery bombardment on Aug. 1 that killed 150 people in a matter of hours.

Six weeks on from the war, with the toll of destruction still being counted, there is deepening unease about what took place that day, especially over whether too much force was used. Some legal experts say a war crime may have been committed.

The events unfolded just as a three-day ceasefire was supposed to come into force. Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel inside Gaza and ambushed three Israeli soldiers, killing two of them and seizing the third.

To rescue the soldier – dead or alive – and ensure Hamas could not use him as a hostage, the Israeli army invoked what is known as the “Hannibal directive”, an order compelling units to do everything they can to recover an abducted comrade.

What ensued was a furious assault on a confined area on the eastern edge of Rafah, the largest city in southern Gaza, home to around 200,000 people. Israeli artillery and tanks bombarded four neighbourhoods for several hours – at times firing a shell a minute – while fighter jets carried out air strikes.

As well as the 150 people killed, medics in Gaza said around 200 were wounded, the majority civilians. It was the deadliest day of the seven-week conflict, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians, again most of them civilians, were killed, as well as 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

In the weeks since, civil rights campaigners, international legal experts and some Israeli military officers have raised concerns about the assault. One specific reservation is whether the abduction of a single soldier could have justified such heavy and relentless use of force in a populated area.

A panel set up by the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission is due to start investigating potential abuses in the war by both sides shortly, with Rafah one of several incidents investigators have indicated they will examine.

Israel’s Military Advocate General, the army’s chief legal body, has opened its own probe into the events and has said it could launch a criminal investigation. International legal scholars have raised red flags over the justification.

“If it is a legitimate military target then we’ve got to question if the damage and death done to civilians was proportionate,” said Iain Scobbie, a professor of public international law at the University of Manchester.

“In this case the answer is clearly no, it is not proportionate,” he said, adding: “If it’s not a legitimate military target, it’s clearly a war crime because it is an unjustified use of force with effects on the civilian population.”

The Israeli military said the advocate-general’s fact-finding teams were still working to establish precisely what happened and as a result it would not comment on specifics.

But in a statement the Israel Defence Forces said: “There is no IDF directive or procedure which allows for a violation of international law, including the law of armed conflict.”

 

AUGUST 1

Mediators in Cairo had agreed with Israeli and Hamas representatives that a ceasefire would begin at 0800 local time.

It is not clear what time Hamas attacked – Hamas at first said it was before the ceasefire started, Israel said it was after – but militants leapt out of the concealed tunnel to ambush the soldiers.

Other Israeli soldiers from the same elite reconnaissance unit scrambled to the scene, where they found two bodies and realized that the third soldier, Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, had been dragged back into the tunnel.

The troops, all from the decorated Givati Brigade, got special permission to enter the potentially booby-trapped tunnel for an underground pursuit. They recovered some of Goldin’s belongings, which allowed forensics experts to conclude later that he was killed in the ambush. Hamas has said it has the remains of Goldin and another Israeli soldier killed in the war.

Colonel Ofer Winter, the Givati Brigade commander, said he was informed about the ambush at around 0900 and about half an hour later got word that a soldier was unaccounted for.

“I declared over the radio the word that no one wants to utter – “Hannibal” – which means abduction,” he told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Aug. 15.

“I began to plan an assault towards Rafah. I instructed all forces to move forward, seize the area, so that the kidnappers would not be able to move.”

Intense artillery shelling, tank fire and air strikes followed, according to accounts from local reporters, residents and medics. At one point, the artillery fired at a rate of one shell a minute, with six cannons firing explosive and non-lethal smoke shells, according to a Reuters photographer.

Abdel-Hakim Lafi, 57, had returned to his house in the area that morning in anticipation of the ceasefire. No sooner had he and his two sons got home than the bombardment began.

“We ran out of the house and down a sandy road and as I was running shells were falling,” he told Reuters. “One hit two women in front of me, I saw them, they were blown up, they were killed in front of my eyes.”

One of his sons, running just behind him, was also killed.

“Everything west of the area where they said the soldier was taken was hit from the air and from the ground,” said Hani Hammad, 28, a Palestinian journalist based in Rafah.

In his comments to Yedioth Ahronoth, Colonel Winter defended the decision to use so much firepower. “Everything we did stemmed from the understanding that we could bring Hadar Goldin back alive,” he said.

“That is why we used all the force. Anyone who kidnaps has to know he will pay a price. It was not revenge, they just messed with the wrong brigade.”

 

FALLOUT

In the days that followed, international attention focused on getting a durable ceasefire in place. But questions soon started to be raised about the Rafah bombardment.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called for an investigation into why the Hannibal directive was employed in a populated, urban area, saying it “fundamentally violated the principle of distinction in international law”.

In an interview with Reuters, Brigadier-General Roy Riftin, the head of the IDF artillery, drew a distinction between Rafah and two other incidents in which heavy artillery was used.

“When a force is in jeopardy or under severe threat, we carry out rescue fire,” he explained, adding that in the other two cases, residents had been warned to leave the area prior to troops moving in and before artillery was used.

“The Hannibal protocol declared for Hadar Goldin is completely different,” he said. “It should be examined at completely different levels.”

It remains unclear how high up the chain of command the declaration of the directive went. Yet regardless of who gave the green light, one central question remains: was it proportionate? Marco Sassoli, a professor at the University of Geneva and a leading authority on international law, said it appeared not to be.

“They may not simply bomb a whole area if they don’t know where the person is, just to make sure that the soldier cannot be evacuated,” he said. “It is an advantage not to lose one soldier but it is not such a great advantage that it would justify risking to kill hundreds of civilians.”

Other experts underscored the importance of recovering a soldier, while saying that did not justify carte blanche.

“It’s more than just a simple mathematical calculation,” said Michael Schmitt, a professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College’s Stockton Center, who would comment on the principles involved but not the specific Rafah case.

“All militaries rate the protection of their forces as very high and for very good reason. You want morale among the troops, you want troops to know you will come to their assistance if they get in a tight spot and so forth,” Schmitt said.

“Although if someone has been captured this does not mean you can completely take off the gloves,” he added.

 

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Part of Israel’s rationale for responding so intensely in such cases is that it has paid heavily for captured soldiers in the past. In 2006, Gilad Shalit was seized near Gaza and spent five years in Hamas captivity. He was released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The Hannibal directive was drafted in 1986 after three soldiers from the Givati Brigade were captured in Lebanon. Their comrades saw the vehicle getting away and did not open fire. The directive aims to ensure that does not happen again.

Critics say it is misinterpreted on the ground as implying that it is better to have a dead soldier than a captured one.

The military has declined to define it precisely in public, only emphasising the need to prevent a soldier being taken. The debate has at times prompted army chiefs to stress that while risking the captive’s life was allowed, targeting him was not.

Israel, having fought many wars since its founding in 1948, has been accused of war crimes many times, and has levelled similar accusations against its enemies, including Hamas.

What could be different now is that the Palestinians are on the brink of joining the International Criminal Court, a move that would allow them to take action against Israel, but could also open the door to criminal proceedings against Hamas.

The head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission panel investigating the Gaza war has said any evidence it gathers could be used by the ICC in a war crimes case against Israel.

The panel’s final report is due by March next year. The next few months – including whether Israel decides to cooperate with the investigation – will prove critical in determining if war crimes charges are eventually levelled.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Baz Ratner; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Luke Baker and Anna Willard)

 


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Israeli soldiers tried to use journalists as ‘human shields’ in Aida clashes

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A journalist said that by Israeli soldiers tried to use him and two colleagues as “human shields” while they were covering clashes in Aida refugee camp north of Bethlehem on Saturday afternoon.

Journalist Musa al-Shaer said that soldiers detained him and his colleague Abd al-Rahman Yunus, as well as an American journalist, while they were covering clashes in the camp between local youths and Israeli forces.

Additionally, al-Shaer told Ma’an that Israeli soldiers had prevented them from doing their work and tried to use them as “human shields” against local youths who were throwing rocks.

Al-Shaer said that the soldiers released them and returned their press cards, but refused to give any reason for their detention.

During the clashes, Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas grenades into the camp, injuring several residents by excessive tear gas inhalation.

An Israeli army spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

The clashes come after Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Aida camp is a frequent site of clashes because it is located beside Rachel’s Tomb, which is surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall despite being in the middle of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Israeli forces shot more than 20 youths with rubber-coated steel bullets and live bullets during clashes that occurred almost daily in December and January, and clashes continue to break out occasionally in the area.

There are 19 refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, within which live about a quarter of the 771,000 registered refugees in the territory.

More than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants — were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

Ma'an Images

Ma’an Images

Ma'an Images

Ma’an Images