It is obvious that the Palestinians alone cannot successfully throw off or even meaningfully negotiate with Israel’s massive military occupation force aided and protected by the United States. Recognizing this, international civil society has been arising to support Palestinian rights under international law and to level the playing field.
Numerous NGOs and international organizations such as Christian Peacemakers who escort Palestinian children to school to protect them from settler violence, as well as organizations in Israel such as B’Tselem and the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD),are playing important roles in this effort, employing a variety of strategies.
Selecting two prominent examples that challenge Israeli aggression, non-violent direct action has been employed by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Free Gaza movement. Israel is fighting back, often with armed violence.
The International Solidarity Movement The ISM bears witness, documents, reports, and actively opposes Israeli human rights violations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Their active opposition includes demonstrations, obstructing construction of the apartheid wall, and blocking the path of bulldozers threatening demolition of Palestinian homes with their own bodies.
In April 2002, Australian ISM volunteer Kate Edwards sustained severe internal injuries from rounds fired by Israeli forces during a protest in Beit Jala.The incident was captured on film and appears in the documentary by Palestinian film-maker Leila Sansour, Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army.
In November 2002, Irish ISM volunteer Caoimhe Butterly was shot and injured on the same day British UNRWA project manager Iain Hook was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper while helping to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank. An ambulance was delayed 25 minutes by the IDF while Hook bled to death. A British inquest found his death was unlawful and deliberate. Hook was the 13th UNRWA victim of IDF shootings in the previous 4-year period. Israel made an undisclosed payment to the family.
In March 2003, 23 year old American ISM activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to protect the residence of two Palestinian families in Gaza. Multiple eyewitness accounts and courtroom evidence presented in the civil lawsuit against Israel by Rachel’s parents clearly establish that Rachel was visible and the killing was deliberate.
In April 2003, 21 year old British ISM activist Tom Hurndall was killed by an Israeli sniper while trying to rescue Palestinian children from Israeli gunfire. Israel initially attempted to evade criminal responsibility, but under pressure from Hurndall’s parents and the British Foreign Secretary reopened the case and the killer was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison by a military court.
In April 2003, American ISM volunteer Brian Avery was shot in the face in Jenin by IDF gunfire while standing by the road as an IDF convoy approached. Avery suffered permanent disfigurement and enormous medical expenses from multiple surgeries since he was uninsured. No IDF soldier was prosecuted and Israel settled Avery’s civil lawsuit for $150,000.
In May 2003, 54 year old Welsh AP photojournalist James Miller was shot to death while leaving a Palestinian home carrying a white flag. Israel reportedly settled the case for $3.5 million in exchange for the UK dropping its extradition demand for prosecution of the killer.
In March 2009, American ISM volunteer Tristan Anderson was critically wounded by a high-velocity tear gas canister near Nil'in while protesting the West Bank separation barrier. Tristan was shot in the head, remained in a "minimally responsive" state for 6 or 7 months, lost his right eye, and suffered significant brain damage to the right frontal and temporal lobes.
In May 2010, 21 year old art student Emily Henochowicz from Maryland lost her left eye when she was struck by a tear gas canister while protesting near Qalandiya checkpoint. Another ISM volunteer at the scene claimed that the Israeli soldiers deliberately aimed at Henochowicz.
In addition to these casualties among internationals, many Palestinian demonstrators have been killed and injured during non-violent resistance actions. While serving as ISM media coordinator in the West Bank for five months in 2010, Emily Schick was shot in the wrist, another ISM volunteer was shot, and 27 Palestinians were killed.
The Free Gaza Movement Formed in August 2008, this international group is challenging and attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, delivering critically needed supplies to the 1.5 million trapped and economically suffocated Palestinians. Gaza has been converted into "the world’s largest open-air prison" by Israel following the Hamas electoral victory of 2006 undermined and effectively nullified by Israel and the US.
The blockade has been compared to the Warsaw ghetto by Richard Falk, Jewish-American Princeton Emeritus Professor of International Law and UN Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and is an illegal collective punishment under international law. The blockade is exacerbated by IDF attacks on Palestinian farmers near the border and naval attacks with water cannons, live fire, boarding and confiscation of boats, and incarceration of Gazan fishermen.
The movement coordinates with coalition partners the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza; IHH - the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief; the International Committee to End the Siege on Gaza; Ship to Gaza Sweden; and Ship to Gaza Greece. FreeGaza has voyaged nine times to Gaza.
The largest action to date was the Gaza Freedom flotilla of six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara. The flotilla, which carried 700 passengers and 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies, was attacked by Israeli naval vessels, helicopter gunships and commandos in international waters in violation of international maritime law that "reserves" the high seas for "peaceful purposes" and specifies that "no state may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty."
This attack killed nine Turkish activists including a 19 year old Turkish-American, Furkan Dogan, killed execution-style while filming the Israeli assault. In a flagrant act of piracy, all 700 passengers were abducted, all ships were taken into the Israeli port of Ashdod where prison facilities awaited the abductees, and all their property including hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional photographic and computer equipment was confiscated including all photographic evidence of the assault.
The event has resulted in civil lawsuits filed or in preparation by the Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of over 30 journalists from seven countries, the Egyptian Bar Association, and other plaintiffs from Turkey, the Netherlands, France, Greece and Germany.
To document violations of international law, the United Nations Human Rights Council conducted an extensive investigation. The summary and conclusions of this investigation are included below.
This report was prepared by the fact-finding mission established by the Human Rights Council in resolution 14/1 of 2 June 2010 to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, resulting from the interception by Israeli forces of the humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza on 31 May 2010 during which nine people were killed and many others injured.
The report sets out background information relating to the interception of the flotilla as well as the applicable international law.
The fact-finding mission conducted interviews with more than 100 witnesses in Geneva, London, Istanbul and Amman. On the basis of this testimony and other information received, the Mission was able to reconstruct a picture of the circumstances surrounding the interception on 31 May 2010 and its aftermath. The report presents a factual description of the events leading up to the interception, the interception of each of the six ships in the flotilla as well as a seventh ship subsequently intercepted on 6 June 2010, the deaths of nine passengers and wounding of many others and the detention of passengers in Israel and their deportation.
The report contains a legal analysis of facts as determined by the Mission with a view to determining whether violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, took place.
The fact-finding mission concluded that a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation.
260. The attack on the flotilla must be viewed in the context of the ongoing problems between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and people. In carrying out its task, the Mission was exposed to the depth of conviction on both sides of the correctness of their respective positions. Similar disasters are likely to reoccur unless there is a dramatic shift in the existing paradigm. It must be remembered that might and strength are enhanced when attended by a sense of justice and fair play. Peace and respect have to be earned, not bludgeoned out of any opponent. An unfair victory has never been known to bring lasting peace.
261. The Mission has come to the firm conclusion that a humanitarian crisis existed on the 31 May 2010 in Gaza. The preponderance of evidence from impeccable sources is too overwhelming to come to a contrary opinion. Any denial of this cannot be supported on any rational grounds. One of the consequences flowing from this is that for this reason alone the blockade is unlawful and cannot be sustained in law. This is so regardless of the grounds on which one seeks to justify the legality of the blockade.
262. Certain results flow from this conclusion. Principally, the action of the Israel Defense Force in intercepting the Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the circumstances and for the reasons given was clearly unlawful. Specifically, the action cannot be justified in the circumstances even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.
263. Israel seeks to justify the blockade on security grounds. The State of Israel is entitled to peace and security like any other. The firing of rockets and other munitions of war into Israeli territory from Gaza constitutes serious violations of international law and of international humanitarian law. But any action in response which constitutes collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza is not lawful in any circumstances.
264. The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted a grave violation of human rights law and international humanitarian law.
265. The Mission considers that several violations and offences have been committed. It is not satisfied that, in the time available, it has been able to compile a comprehensive list of all offences. However, there is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
• Wilful killing;
• Torture or inhuman treatment;
• Wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.
The Mission also considers that a series of violations of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law have taken place, including:
• Right to life (art. 6, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights);
• Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 7, International Covenant; Convention against Torture);
• Right to liberty and security of the person and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention (art. 9, International Covenant);
• Right of detainees to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (art. 10, International Covenant);
• Freedom of expression (art. 19, International Covenant).
The right to an effective remedy should be guaranteed to all victims. The mission must not be understood to be saying that this is a comprehensive list by any means.
266. The Mission notes that the retention by the Israeli authorities of unlawfully seized property remains a continuing offence and Israel is called upon to return such property forthwith.
267. The perpetrators of the more serious crimes, being masked, cannot be identified without the assistance of the Israeli authorities. They reacted in a violent manner when they thought that anyone was attempting to identify them. The Mission sincerely hopes that there will be cooperation from the Government of Israel to assist in their identification with a view to prosecuting the culpable and bringing closure to the situation.
268. The Mission is aware that this is not the first time that the Government of Israel has declined to cooperate with an inquiry into events in which its military personnel were involved. On this occasion the Mission accepts the assurances of the Permanent Representative of Israel that the position which he was directed to defend was in no way directed towards the members of the Mission in their personal capacities. It is nonetheless regrettable that, on yet another occasion of an enquiry into events involving loss of life at the hands of the Israeli military, the Government of Israel has declined to cooperate in an inquiry not appointed by it or on which it was significantly represented.
269. The Mission regrets that its requests to the Permanent Mission of Israel for information were not entertained. The reason initially given was that the Government of Israel had established its own independent panel of distinguished persons to investigate the flotilla incident. The Mission was told that for that reason, and also because the Secretary-General had announced the establishment of another distinguished panel with a similar mandate, that "an additional Human Rights Council initiative in this regard [are] both unnecessary and unproductive".
270. The Mission did not agree with that position and for that reason suggested to the Permanent Representative of Israel that he should direct to the Council and not the Mission a request that the Mission defer submitting its report to permit other enquiries to complete their tasks. The Mission has not received any direction from the Council to date and considers that it would have been obligated to respond positively to any such directive from the Council.
271. In the light of the fact that the Turkel Committee and the Secretary-General’s panel have not concluded their sittings, the Mission will refrain from any remarks which are capable of being construed as not allowing those bodies to complete their tasks "unfettered by external events". The Mission confines itself to the observationthat public confidence in any investigative process in circumstances such as the present is not enhanced when the subject of an investigation either investigates himself or plays a pivotal role in the process.
272. Elsewhere in this report the Mission has referred to the fact that it found it necessary to reinterpret its mandate because of the manner in which the resolution appointing it was couched. It is important in the drafting of matters of the sort that the impression is not given of the appearance of any prejudgment. The Mission took particular care at the first opportunity to indicate that it interpreted its mandate as requiring it to approach its task without any preconceptions or prejudices. It wishes to assure all concerned that it has held to that position scrupulously.
273. All the passengers on board the ships comprising the flotilla who appeared before the Mission impressed the members as persons genuinely committed to the spirit of humanitarianism and imbued with a deep and genuine concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza. The Mission can only express the hope that differences will be resolved in the short rather than the long term so that peace and harmony may exist in the area.
274. Nine human beings lost their lives and several others suffered serious injuries. From the observations of the Mission, deep psychological scars have been inflicted by what must have been a very traumatic experience not only for the passengers but also the soldiers who received injuries. The members of the Mission sympathize with all concerned and in particular with the families of the deceased.
275. The Mission is not alone in finding that a deplorable situation exists in Gaza. It has been characterized as "unsustainable". This is totally intolerable and unacceptable in the twenty-first century. It is amazing that anyone could characterize the condition of the people there as satisfying the most basic standards. The parties and the international community are urged to find the solution that will address all legitimate security concern of both Israel and the people of Palestine, both of whom are equally entitled to "their place under the heavens". The apparent dichotomy in this case between the competing rights of security and to a decent living can only be resolved if old antagonisms are subordinated to a sense of justice and fair play. One has to find the strength to pluck rooted sorrows from the memory and to move on.
276. The Mission has given thought to the position of humanitarian organizations who wish to intervene in situations of long-standing humanitarian crisis where the international community is unwilling for whatever reason to take positive action. Too often they are accused as being meddlesome and at worst as terrorists or enemy agents.
277. A distinction must be made between activities taken to alleviate crises and action to address the causes creating the crisis. The latter action is characterized as political action and therefore inappropriate for groups that wish to be classified as humanitarian. This point is made because of the evidence that, while some of the passengers were solely interested in delivering supplies to the people in Gaza, for others the main purpose was raising awareness of the blockade with a view to its removal, as the only way to solve the crisis. An examination should be made to clearly define humanitarianism, as distinct from humanitarian action, so that there can be an agreed form of intervention and jurisdiction when humanitarian crises occur.
278. The Mission sincerely hopes that no impediment will be put in the way of those who suffered loss as a result of the unlawful actions of the Israeli military to be compensated adequately and promptly. It is hoped that there will be swift action by the Government of Israel. This will go a long way to reversing the regrettable reputation which that country has for impunity and intransigence in international affairs. It will also assist those who genuinely sympathise with their situation to support them without being stigmatized.
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