Saturday, March 14, 2009

Letters of the Law - Amira Hass

Haaretz, March 12, 2009 - During the past 10 days, the Defense Ministry's claims and insurance division received a registered letter including an official document describing the damages suffered during Operation Cast Lead by Sabbah Abu Halima. Also in the envelope were 12 similar notices, detailing the damage sustained by members of her family (seven of whom were killed and six wounded). According to the short letter accompanying the forms, they were sent as per "the Civil Damages Regulations (State Responsibility) 2003." "Please fax us confirmation of receipt," added (in Hebrew) the signatory: Iyad al-Alami, attorney, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. The center has to date sent about 500 such registered letters with forms enclosed to the claims and insurance unit in the last month, detailing the damage done during the Israel Defense Forces offensive from December 27, 2008 until January 10, 2009. Another 300 letters are expected to be sent in the coming weeks, referring to the period of January 11-18.

The letters are just the first step in a process being undertaken by the PCHR and various Palestinian, Israeli and foreign organizations, lawyers and civil rights advocates. Their aim: to put an end to what they see as the impunity Israel enjoys after it attacks the Palestinians.

The law demands that a detailed notification of damages be sent to the Defense Ministry within 60 days of the reported event. Accordingly, since January 18, nearly all the staff of the PCHR have been involved in the process of preparing the notifications. Twenty-five field workers collected testimonies and took photographs in all the areas that were affected. People who wanted to have reports submitted went to the center's offices, where each of the staff's 10 young lawyers heard 10-20 complainants a day, took detailed affidavits and received power-of-attorney. The affidavits were then entered into a computer and a full report of the event was compiled (involving cross-checking of testimonies, field visits, drawing of maps, etc.). Later, an abstract was prepared and the "notification forms" were filled out with the aid of senior lawyers....

If anyone decides to write about Operation Cast Lead in the future, he or she will find at the PCHR hundreds of files of material that has not been used in IDF investigations . The story of the Abu Halima family appears in dozens of foreign media reports. What Sabbah Abu Halima told those journalists and Haaretz appears in the center's documents, purged of any journalistic embellishments....

Amira Hass is a journalist for Haaretz.

Everyone Agrees: War in Gaza was a Failure - Gideon Levy

Haaretz, March 12, 2009 - Suddenly we're all in consensus: The recent war in Gaza was a failure. The bon ton now is to list its flaws. Flip-floppers say its "achievements" were squandered; leftists say the war "should never have started" and rightists will say the war "should have lasted longer." But on this they all agree: It was a blunder.

Because we consider the war to have been almost cost-free, with just 13 Israeli dead, it will be the first in 36 years without a Commission of Inquiry formed in its wake....

Israel's War Crimes - Richard Falk

Le Monde Diplomatique, March, 2009 - For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourses to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.

....In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel’s behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called “the second war” – the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results. The US won every battle in the Vietnam war and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war.

It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case.

Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and in 2008 was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

Friday, March 13, 2009

MIT/Harvard Gaza Symposium: March 30-31, 2009

The second annual Gaza symposium, this year jointly organized by MIT and Harvard, will host a series of panels on the role of US and international actors, as well as human rights and international humanitarian law in the wake of recent events in Gaza. Bringing together experts in the fields of human rights, history, political science, US foreign policy and law, the two-day symposium will include a range of views from US, Israeli, Palestinian and UN/NGO perspectives.

Speakers include:

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem; Henry Siegman, Director of the U.S./Middle East Project; Congressman Brian Baird, Representative, Washington State (D-03); Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Center at the American University of Beirut; William Corcoran, President of ANERA; Karma Nabulsi, Lecturer in International Relations at Oxford University and former PLO representative; Gabriel Piterburg, Professor of History at UCLA; Irene Gendzier, Political Science Professor at Boston University; George Bisharat, Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of Law; Barry Posen, Director of the MIT Security Studies Program; Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard; Husam Zomlot, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard; Anat Biletzki, Former chairperson of B'tselem and Professor of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University; Sami Abdel Shafi, Writer and co-founder of the Emerge Consulting Group in Gaza; Andrew Whitley, Director of the Representative Office of UNRWA; Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of NY Office, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Monday, March 30, 1:30 - 6:00 pm
Wong Auditorium, MIT Bldg E51, 70 Memorial Drive, Cambridge

Tuesday, March 31, 1:30 - 6:00 pm
Austin Hall, Harvard Law School, 1515 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge

The symposium is free and open to the public; please come in advance as seating is limited.

Sponsors at MIT:
The Center for International Studies; The Program for Human Rights and Justice

Sponsors at Harvard:
The Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School; The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; University Committee on Human Rights Studies; Human Rights Program at the Harvard Law School

Updated Program on Symposium websites at Harvard and MIT:

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Rights group confirms final death toll 1,434 in Israel's Gaza offensive

A total of 1,434 people, including 960 civilians, 239 police officers and 235 fighters, were killed in Israel's offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a Palestinian human rights group said on Thursday.

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, March 12, 2009 - The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) updated its casualty figures from Israel's 22-day Gaza offensive launched on the Gaza Strip between Dec. 27, 2008 and Jan. 18, 2009.

The PCHR's investigations reveal that "throughout the course of the assault, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) used excessive, indiscriminate force, in violation of the principle of distinction," the group said.

The center's earlier tally had been nearly 1,300 dead, including some 900 civilians.

The Gaza Health Ministry also confirmed that a total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault, including 1,606 children and 828 women, the center added. During the offensive, 13 Israelis were killed, including three by rockets fired into Israel.

Read full report on the PCHR website

NJ lawmaker to Israel: Expand aid to Gazans

by Robert Wiener, NJJN Staff Writer, March 12, 2009

A week after returning from a trip to the Middle East, NJ Congressman Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) is calling for greater access to border crossings and humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

“Israel, the United States, and other interested parties should open border crossings, but not wide open,” Holt told NJ Jewish News March 9 in a telephone interview from his office on Capitol Hill.

“Obviously, opening the borders has to be done in a secure way. The crossing most suited for checking the cargo, for scanning and detecting contraband, is closed. I don’t quite understand why they shouldn’t be using the equipment they have, even to pass in the food supplies that Israel permits for humanitarian reasons.”

After visiting Gaza for half a day, Holt called for “expanded humanitarian aid and reconstruction aid. That is where I differ from the government of Israel,” he said.

“There is real hardship, but I am not sure I observed enough to describe it as a humanitarian crisis,” he added.

Describing himself as “a huge fan of Israel,” the congressman said he was not “trying to draw some sort of moral equation. I am saying reconstructive aid and expanded humanitarian aid in Gaza seems to me would be not only a humane position but a more practical approach to the ends we seek here.”