Court fines petitioners for demanding equal praying rights

Posted: June 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

So much for freedom of religious practice: Israel allows Christians from Gaza to travel to their holy sites, but rejects similar requests from Muslims

When demanding to maintain its control over both East and West Jerusalem—and especially, over the city’s holy sites—one of Israel’s main arguments is that it allows freedom of worship in the city to members of all religions. The Knesset’s Basic Law: Jerusalem from 1980 [Hebrew link, PDF]  states that the holy sites will be guarded by Israel from any harm that might prevent access to them (btw, a 2001 provision to this law states that a Knesset’s special majority is necessary for removing Israel’s authority from parts of the city, placing another barrier on reaching a two states solution – but that’s a different story).

The problem is that Israel itself is the one preventing access to Jerusalem’s holy sites. It takes a special permit for Palestinians from the West Bank to enter the city to pray, and this permit is given mostly to members of certain age groups (the official excuse, like always, is security concerns).

Israel seems to be less concerned when it comes to Palestinian Christians. In recent years, Israel has even allowed Christians from Gaza to travel to Nazareth and Bethlehem. The Palestinians had to be cleared by internal security and go through a search to their body and personal luggage, to which they all agreed.

Last February, seven Muslim women from Gaza have filed a petition [Hebrew, PDF] to the Beer-Sheva court, demanding to be granted the same rights as the Christians pilgrims. They agreed to go through the same security procedures, or whatever other means the authorities would find necessary. All they asked is to be allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Gisha, an NGO which deals with freedom of movement, joined their appeal to court.

Recently, the court rejected [Hebrew, PDF] the petition and ordered the petitioners to pay legal fees in the unprecedented amount of 25,000 NIS (approx. 7,250 USD). Justice Eliyahu Bitan, who sat on the case, even made disdainful remarks toward Gisha, referring to it as a “human rights” organization (quotation marks in the original).

The court declared that even if Israel continued to control Gaza strip, it had no obligation to allow any Palestinians from the Occupied Territories to pray in Jerusalem.

This verdict demonstrated again how unwelcoming Israeli courts are to Palestinians. Equality in government practice has long been recognized as a guiding principal by the Supreme Court, but when it comes to Palestinians, the court allows policies which are based on ethnicity and religious affiliation. The decision also showed the hollowness of Israel’s pretension to be the protector of the holy sites in Jerusalem. The call for an international regime in the holy sites has never been more justified.

The third troubling aspect in the verdict is what seems like an attempt by the court to limit the work of non-governmental organizations by placing unprecedented legal fees on them – which look more like a form of fine (again, the Supreme Court has ordered in the past not to use legal fees to fine petitioners). It seems that the court wants to deter organizations and human rights group from trying to protect the rights of Palestinians through Israel’s court system.

Gisha has filed a petition [Hebrew, PDF] to the Supreme Court against the Beer-Sheva court’s verdict. I have asked the IDF spokesperson unit to outline the policy by which permits to pray in Jerusalem are given or refused from Palestinians. When I receive a reply, I’ll post it here.


Flotilla: Inquiry panel tough on NGO representatives, easy on IDF generals

Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A critical review of the protocols of the Turkel Committee, assigned to investigate the raid on the Mavi Marmara which left 9 dead, reveals a deep pro-IDF and government bias by committee members

One of the great favors the Obama administration did Benjamin Netanyahu last year (another one for which it received very little credit) was its support for an Israeli-led inquiry on the flotilla incident.

The Turkel committee – led by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel and joined by two international observers – was meant to prevent another Goldstone-style report. When the committee was formed, American and Israeli officials assured the world that “Israeli democracy is well capable of investigating itself,” and therefore, no international inquiry is necessary.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit these statements.

A critical review of the Turkel Committee protocols by the Israeli blogger Tom reveals some disturbing elements in the Committee’s work, and especially its treatment of the different witnesses who appeared before it.

The Turkel Committee heard only two of more than 600 passengers on board the Mavi Marmara.  Both of them weren’t involved in the actual battle. At the same time, the committee heard at least ten senior Israel officials, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (twice) and several other senior generals (the committee is not allowed access to soldiers and officers who took part in the raid, so it had to settle for the official IDF report).

Apparently, there were striking differences in the ways the Turkel committee treated Israeli officials and generals, passengers, and Israeli human rights activists. The latter were not involved in the raid itself, and were only called to provide background on the situation in Gaza, yet it seems that for some committee members, they represented the real enemy. A Mavi Marmara passenger and Israeli activists who testified before the committee were subjected to hostile interrogations; Army Generals and senior officials, on the other hand, were met with praises and flattery by committee members.

“I want to praise (the army) for the (investigative) work it did,” one committee member told IDF chief of staff Ashkenazy during his testimony. “The efforts you took (in presenting the committee with a full picture on the situation in Gaza) were inhuman,” said a committee member to another general. “The work you did deserves much appreciation,” a committee member told the Foreign Office’s director general. An official statement by the committee spokesperson refers to another general’s testimony as “impressive” and “thorough.”

At the same time, NGO representatives were met with anger and hostility by committee members. “You are bothering us by coming here,” says committee member General (ret.) Amos Horev to Jessica Montel of B’Tselem, “stick (in your testimony) to humanitarian issues.”

Tom counted the words on the Turkel protocols, and then compared the proportional space given to the testimonies of IDF and government officials to that allowed to representatives of human rights organizations. The results are striking: the generals were allowed to speak with little or no interruptions, while the human rights representatives were stopped and questioned frequently.

Here are Tom’s findings for 13 protocols that were posted on the committee’s Hebrew website:

Witness   |   percentage of witness’ account during testimony   |    percentage of committee members’ interruptions

Politicians:
PM Banjamin Netanyahu     85.5            14.5
DM Ehud Barak                        92.1            7.9
MK Tzipi Livni                          82.8            17.2

IDF Generals
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy
(First testimony)                    86.8        13.2
(Second testimony)               84.9        15.1
Army Prosecutor Avichay Mandelblit    83.2        16.8
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot          83.3        16.7

Bureaucrats
Yossi Gal (Foreign Office)            66        34
Yossi Edelstein (Interior Office)        71        29
Benni Kniak (Prisons Commander)        82.1        17.9

human rights representatives
B’Tselem                                                 57        43
Physicians for Human Rights        64.4        35.6
Gisha (free passage to Gaza)          53.8        46.2

Tom notes (my translation):

The amazing thing here is the remarkable consistency of the figures. Heaps of texts (the protocol of the testimony of IDF Prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit, for example, has more than 30,000 words), different witnesses with different positions, no less than seven committee members (…) that may raise questions, and still, a clear pattern regarding the treatment of witnesses emerges: at the top are the senior politicians, who get to speak virtually nonstop; in fact it’s not a testimony but more like a speech (…) slightly below them are senior military personnel – they also get to speak almost without interruption, with each receiving more than 83 percent of the total testimony time (…). Senior bureaucrats, especially the foreign ministry director general, are interrupted more often, but they also don’t have too much to complain about. And who got the harshest treatment? Representatives of human rights organizations – B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Gisha. B’Tselem and Gisha representatives got (to speak during) just a little over half the time of their testimony (…).

This is worth some more pondering. After all, it is the political and the military leadership that should be the center of the committee’s work. It’s their decisions which are studied. Human rights organizations were invited to the committee to give general background on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. They were not under investigation there (…). The actual state of affairs should have been exactly the opposite: Turkel Committee representatives were to intervene much more during the testimonies of the generals and politicians: to ask them to clarify, explain and elaborate. The testimonies of representatives of human rights organizations were to be used only for general background, not as a basis for cross-examination.

So, what do you think the Turkel report will look like?


IDF document: “policy principle: separating Gaza from West Bank”

Posted: September 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

An IDF Powerpoint slideshow, presented before the Turkel committee for the investigation of the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, reveals the official goals of the Israeli policy regarding the Gaza strip.

The slideshow, prepared by The Administration for the Coordination of Government Policy in the Territories – the IDF body in charge of carrying out Israeli government policies regarding the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza – deals with the humanitarian conditions in the strip; with food, water, fuel and electricity supply and with the condition of medical facilities in Gaza.

download the IDF slideshow [Hebrew] here

The first set of slides details the background for the current activities of The Administration for the Coordination of Government Policy in the Territories. Slide number 15 details the principles of Israeli policy:

-    Responding to the humanitarian needs of the population.
-    Upholding civilian and economic limitations on the [Gaza] strip.
-    Separating [or differentiating, בידול] Judea and Samaria [i.e. West Bank] from Gaza – a security and diplomatic objective.
-    Preserving the Quartet’s conditions on Hamas (Hamas as a terrorist entity).

Slide 20 deals with freedom of movement from and to the Gaza strip. Policy objectives are:

-    Limiting people from entering or exiting the strip, in accordance with the government’s decision.
-    Separating [differentiating] Judea and Samaria from Gaza.
-    Dealing with humanitarian needs.
-    Preserving the activity of humanitarian organizations in the strip.
-    Keeping a coordinating mechanism with the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli policy regarding Gaza could be seen as violation of official and unofficial principles of previous agreements and negotiations with the Palestinians and other parties. Gaza and the West Bank were regarded as “one entity” – though not officially declared as such – already in the 1978 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed in September 1993 and still an abiding document, specifically states that:

The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period.

This declaration was ratified in following agreements from 1994 and 1995.

The recent IDF slideshow is the first time an Israeli official document publicly declares that the current policy objective is to create two separate political entities in the Palestinian territories.

Nirit Ben-Ari, spokeswoman for Gisha, an Israeli NGO dealing with the freedom of movement, export and import to and from the Palestinian territories, said that “while in Washington a Palestinian state is being negotiated and people are already discussing ‘a train line between Gaza and Ramallah‘, in reality Israel is working to separate Gaza from the West bank even further than the separation already caused by the split in the Palestinian leadership.

“This policy is aimed against civilian population and against people who have nothing to do with Israel’s security concerns. It hurts family ties, and harms any future possibility to develop commerce, education and economical life in the Palestinian society. Those policies should raise concerns regarding the intentions of the Israeli government in Gaza.”

————————-

Other slides in the IDF slideshow deals with the ways the IDF gather information on the humanitarian situation in the strip (mainly through NGO’s and media reports), how food and fuel supply is evaluated, and how the needs of the local population are calculated. According to the IDF assumptions, there are 1,600,000 people living in Gaza. The army does not occupy itself with the distribution of supply, so there is no way of knowing if the population’s needs are actually met – only that according to the IDF, enough food and water is entering Gaza.

The slideshow doesn’t deal with the export of goods from the strip, nor does it explains the mechanism that is used to determine which civilian goods could be brought in.

Slide 50 details the goods found on the Gaza-bound flotilla: medical supply, toys, school gear, construction materials and powered wheelchairs.


Israel looking for strong women to handle next flotilla, a flash game on the Gaza blockade, and other stories

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m going on vacation until the end of June, so I probably won’t be blogging that much. Meanwhile, here are a few things worth checking out.

● Israeli pundits agree: the flotilla has won, Netanyahu governments (and I might add the Obama administration) lost. From now on, it’s all political damage control.

● Maariv: Concern in the American Administration over the age of two of the members of the Turkel committee, who was appointed by PM Netanyahu to look into the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

● Ad in an Israeli newspaper: private contractor looking for women volunteers with “great physical strength and motivation” to help deal with the passengers of future flotillas (h/t Richard Silverstein).

238527_hezbollah-gaza-flotilla-women-wanted-ad

● More evidences of misuse of flotilla passengers’ credit cards (Hebrew)

“Safe Passage”: The flash game Gisha organization has created in order to inform the world of the measures Israel is taking as part of its separation policy between the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

The story of prisoner X: The man in Israel’s Ayalon prison, whose identity no one knows. Initial report on him was published on Ynet, only to be removed later from the site due to a government gag-order.

● Speaking of gag-orders, writer and Israeli Arab activist, Ameer Makhoul, who is charged with espionage, has written a public letter from his jail. The full charges against Makhoul were never made public, and his trail is being conducted behind close doors, with some of the “confidential material” not allowed to be viewed even by his own attorneys.

● We often here the argument of “Arab rejectionism”, meaning that Palestinian leaders rejected all the generous peace offers that were handed to them by Israeli leaders. But what about Israeli rejectionism? Why, asks Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, hasn’t Israel responded to the Arab peace initiative?


The siege on Gaza is the real crime

Posted: December 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Exactly one year after operation Cast Lead, Gaza is still the world’s largest prison.

The media is discussing the possibility of a prisoner exchange deal, as well as the effort to renew peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the Goldstone report and the allegations of war crimes, but the real crime is happening right before our eyes: the Israeli-Egyptian siege of the Gaza strip.

According to the CIA Factbook, there are 1.5 million people living on the strip’s 360 sq. km (slightly more than twice the size of Washington, DC). They are not allowed to travel anywhere, and their lives are reduced to little more than survival. Israel does not allow building material, supply for farming or factories, school needs and many food items into the strip. 80 percent of the population in Gaza depends on humanitarian aid for its survival. The houses which were destroyed in the war can’t be rebuilt, and thousands of people are forced to pass a second winter without shelter. 4.5 billion dollars collected for the reconstruction of the strip can’t reach Gaza.

You can read more about the siege and it’s consequences on Gisha site.

The Israeli government does not explain the reasons for the siege. It’s obviously not part of an effort to force the return of Gilad Shalit, since the siege is not part of the deal discussed between Israel and Hamas. It’s not about the rockets as well – since there aren’t almost any these days.

The IDF just launched a special page on its internet site to mark a year to the war. It’s titled “Days of Quiet”. One of the articles on the page tells the story of the Kabatim, the security officers of the Israeli towns and settlements around the Gaza strip “who used to look for missile launches at nights… and now have to fight boredom.” That’s not Peace Now saying; it’s the IDF.

So why does the siege go on?

It’s not about preventing the Hamas from stocking arms. Hamas does that through the tunnels below the Egyptian border, and Israel is checking any cargo entering the strip through its side. Forbidding trucks of pasta from getting into Gaza – as Senator Kerry was shocked to find Israel doing – has nothing to do with national security.

Is the siege a way to make the people of Gaza bring down Hamas, something both Jerusalem and Washington wishes for? If so, it’s both an immoral and inefficient way. If operation Cast Lead and the year following it proved something, it’s that Hamas is here to stay. It’s bad news for Israel and possibly for the peace process as well, but collective punishment against 1.5 million people is not a legitimate response.

Asked about the siege, most Israelis would say that the Palestinians deserve it: they elected Hamas, which launched rockets and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, so they got it coming, more or less. This is basically the same rational terrorists use for justifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians: they supported the occupation and all it lead to, they elected Likud, so they also have it coming. Both rationalizations are false. Suicide attacks are unacceptable, and so is the siege.