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Sniper shots and mass arrests: UN Gaza report also documents Israeli abuses in West Bank last summer

Israel/Palestine
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The recently released United Nations report on the 2014 war in Gaza meticulously documents last summer’s horror. The reports of Israeli executions of Palestinians, Israel’s aerial assaults on Palestinians in their homes in Gaza and other aspects of the assault have attracted the most attention.

But the UN report also highlights what it calls “widespread human rights violations” by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem during the time period it examines. These violations ran the gamut from a sweeping campaign of arrests of those Israel claimed were tied to Hamas, torture of detainees, killings of protesters and punitive home demolitions.

The document is a reminder that last summer, the uptick in tensions and violence was not limited to Gaza. The brunt of human rights violations fell on Palestinians throughout occupied Palestine and within Israel. And the human rights abuses the report looks at still occur near-daily in the West Bank and Jerusalem, albeit not with the frequency in which they occurred last summer.

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It was the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths–19-year-old Eyal Yifrah and 16-year-olds Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Frenkel–by Palestinian militants that lit last summer’s fuse. In response, Israeli forces rampaged through the occupied territories and rounded up an estimated 2,050 Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem as part of their military operation to find the boys. According to Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer, those arrests increased the total number of Palestinian prisoners to 6,050 by September 2014. (The number is now at 5,800.)

About thirty young men part of the Abu Khdeir family were arrested after clashes that took place in Jerusalem–clashes that were sparked by the kidnapping and burning alive of Muhammed Abu Khdeir by Israeli Jewish extremists in an apparent revenge attack. In one raid on the Rushdi family north of Hebron, “Israeli authorities cut off the electricity supply to the area before launching the raid” and that 78-year-old Fatima Ismail Issa Rushd suffered from a stroke and died after the raid on her home.

The UN report omits critical context for the Israeli military operation in the West Bank: as a number of journalists pointed out, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the security services likely knew the boys were dead long before their bodies were discovered. And while Israel claimed Hamas carried out the kidnapping, evidence points in the direction that a rogue Hamas cell took it upon themselves to kidnap and kill the boys without direction from the militant group’s leadership.  But Netanyahu and the army kept mum in order to exploit the situation and strike a blow at Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza and has somewhat of a presence in the West Bank.

The kidnapping, and Israel’s response to it, is where the UN report starts in its section on the West Bank and Jerusalem. The UN documents how Israel arrested and detained hundreds of children. There was also a significant increase in the number of administrative detainees, or those imprisoned without charge or trial. “The commission reviewed information suggesting that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was used extensively during interrogations,” the UN report states. News outlets and UN and human rights reports have detailed the specific tactics Israel uses on detainees: sleep deprivation; the use of the “shabach” position, where a detainee’s legs and arms are bound to a chair in a stress position; exposure to extreme temperatures; and physical abuse like hitting and slapping.

In a statement, Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer said that they welcome “the United Nations report on the 2014 Summer war which devastated Gaza, which may be a step towards accountability in war crimes against its people, and the unlawful arrest and detention of Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza.” But the statement added that the UN report “fails to consider the legal implications of lack of provision of fair trial standards and arbitrary arrest as crimes of war.”

Israeli authorities also returned to a tactic last summer that is blatantly illegal under international law: punitive house demolitions of the families connected to suspects. The UN report notes that this practice, which occurred largely in Hebron, constituted collective punishment.

It was Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, and its surrounding villages that bore the brunt of Israel’s military operation in the West Bank, since the three boys were kidnapped and killed nearby. Hundreds of homes were raided and “Hebron’s 680,000 residents were effectively cut off from the rest of the West Bank owing to a series of closures, checkpoints and other restrictions,” according to the UN report.

Hebron resident and non-violent activist Suhaib Zahida was one of many who came face to face with soldiers in his home. “They came to my house. Also, my neighbors. All the houses in Hebron were entered by the Israeli army,” Zahida told me. “They broke a lot of things in the house on the pretext of searching for the settlers”–an experience common to many Palestinians. (The three boys were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank, but only one lived in a West Bank settlement.)

Zahida helped to organize the many demonstrations in Hebron in support of Gaza. He told me that Israeli snipers shot many Palestinians in the leg during protests, and that on one day, over 100 Palestinians were injured in Hebron. The UN report documents a number of instances where Israeli security forces fired live bullets and killed demonstrators. In the village of Beit Ommar, located near Hebron, three men–Hashem Abu Maria, Sultan Za’qiq and Abdelhamid Breighith–demonstrating against the war in Gaza were killed by Israeli sniper fire. In total, an estimated twenty seven people, including five children, were killed by Israeli forces last summer–with nine of them occurring in the Hebron area, according to the report.

“This is the policy of Israel,” said Zahida. “When there is something against Israel, for example military operation or attack, they punish all the people.” Two days after the war in Gaza ended, Zahida himself was arrested for calling for an intifada in Hebron on Facebook.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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13 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    June 29, 2015, 2:33 pm

    “not limited to Gaza” While we all know mainstream outlets opened up last summer about reporting somewhat more accurately than they had ever done so before. However as Alex points out never a mention of actions in the West Bank. Worrisome during reporting that Palestinians were referred to as the “people of Gaza” all of the time. As if the West Bank did not belong to Palestinians and was not occupied.

    • Hostage
      June 30, 2015, 9:41 am

      Worrisome during reporting that Palestinians were referred to as the “people of Gaza” all of the time. As if the West Bank did not belong to Palestinians and was not occupied.

      From the standpoint of the crime of apartheid, the Netanyahu regime has been totally successful in pursuing its goal of divide and rule over isolated ethnic enclaves. The Israelis didn’t wait until the summer to throw a tantrum, they started applying sanctions and withholding customs revenues the minute the new unity government was sworn into office in the Spring. That was another violation of UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), which stressed that Gaza is an integral part of Palestine; called for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatment; and encouraged tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation, including support of mediation efforts of Egypt and the League of Arab States.

      The reason that Fatah and Hamas have worked out five or six unsuccessful unity agreements is because the Palestinian people will not accept the legitimacy of either party governing alone or in isolation from the other and its constituents; and because Israel is still illegally interfering in the exercise of the Palestinian right of self-determination in violation of international law.

      • just
        June 30, 2015, 10:36 am

        iirc, the attempt to forge a unity government was another little recognized event that “lit last summer’s fuse” for Israel’s massive rampage thru the OPT that preceded the massacre in Gaza as Alex details above. The terrible killing of the 3 teens was used as a cruel manipulation by the GoI in order to somehow justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, when in reality they were hell- bent on breaking any unity government~ period.

        The average American really doesn’t have a clue, but they’d get a few if they land here @ MW. That’s why I keep telling folks about this space…

  2. Kay24
    June 29, 2015, 4:39 pm

    Yet another UN report, giving us terrible crimes committed by Israel. Like others before it, it has been dismissed by Israel, and it will not be held accountable for atrocities and violence against MOSTLY civilians who died by the hundreds. The US will shield Israel at the UN, if it decides to pass any resolutions against Israel, and the Israelis will live on uncaring, to inflict more pain on those they occupy.

    According to the usual zionist narrative, the blame lies with everyone else, but themselves.

    • Hostage
      June 30, 2015, 10:06 am

      Yet another UN report, giving us terrible crimes committed by Israel. Like others before it, it has been dismissed by Israel, and it will not be held accountable for atrocities and violence against MOSTLY civilians who died by the hundreds. The US will shield Israel at the UN, if it decides to pass any resolutions against Israel, and the Israelis will live on uncaring, to inflict more pain on those they occupy.

      Oh no, the US and the UN Security Council are mostly irrelevant. This UN HRC report is in the public domain and anyone can incorporate it by reference in their own Article 15 communications with the ICC. The ICC Prosecutor already has Article 12(3) declarations in hand and an Article 14 state referral from Palestine. The Office of the Prosecutor has scheduled a team to arrive in Israel in just a few days from now as part of its preliminary examination to see if any crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC have been committed. Never mind that it has dozens of Article 15 communications from governments and NGOs, like the Arab League, HRW, AI, et al reminding it that the ICJ advised that Israel’s wall and settlements violated portions of the Geneva Convention that are reflected in Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute.

      It’s time for Palestinian Solidarity activists to get serious about applying political pressure on the Prosecutor. Despite all of her public denials, she and her predecessor have played politics and employed jargon and sophomoric legal nonsense to avoid taking action against Israeli officials. If she drags her feet yet again, we should start demanding that she be removed from office for a “serious breach of duty” in accordance with Article 46 of the Statute and Article 24 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence: i.e. “Repeatedly causes unwarranted delay in the initiation, prosecution or trial of cases, or in the exercise of judicial powers.”

      • just
        June 30, 2015, 10:25 am

        +1, Hostage!

        amigo linked to an interview with Bensouda yesterday. It’s distressing, imho:

        “OT just but you might be interested in an interview the ICC Chief Prosecutor gave on AJ today. …

        link to aljazeera.com”

        – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/06/israeli-forces-palestinian-during#sthash.SCVvyAHJ.dpuf

      • Kay24
        June 30, 2015, 11:22 am

        Well said. I agree that the Palestinians should not be swayed by hollow promises nor threats of their aid being cut off, and push hard for justice and freedom. The Prosecutor and others like her should put aside any political influences, and do the right thing for the Palestinians. Also, to your point, there are plenty of written statements from credible sources to work with. If this is not the time to seek justice for the brutal crimes against humanity by Israel, then when will it be?

  3. just
    June 29, 2015, 5:15 pm

    Thanks for this article, Alex.

    Meanwhile:

    “Some 1,200 people demonstrated Monday outside the UN Human Rights Council, demanding it treat Israel fairly and end its “obsession” with the Jewish state. The protest took place as a commission of inquiry presented a report on last summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict.

    The participants in the Geneva rally represented more than 80 nongovernmental organizations – both Jewish and Christian – and came from a dozen countries, according to the World Jewish Congress.

    At the protest, WJC President Robert Singer said the council’s obsession with Israel prevents it from properly addressing human rights violations around the world.

    Adele Raemer, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim, near the border with the Gaza Strip, described how the kibbutz residents were nearly murdered during the conflict when terrorists emerged from a tunnel from the Gaza Strip.

    “I am disappointed by the tone at times of the Human Rights Council, which insinuates that Israel does not demand accountability from her army,” Raemer said at the protest. “I know that in the process of protecting my community, our soldiers have put their lives at risk to save innocent Palestinian lives, aborting vital missions when non-combatant Palestinians were in harm’s way.”

    Also Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told a closed meeting that he would consider leaving the Human Rights Council over the United Nations body’s report issued last week that said both Israel and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes during last summer’s 50-day conflict. Army Radio reported on the closed meeting on Monday evening.

    Israel and the United States boycotted the Human Rights Council session that discussed the report, which focused more on Israel’s role in the conflict and accepted Palestinian casualty figures. Israel did not cooperate in the investigation, saying the panel commission was biased against Israel. …”

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.663614?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Pitiful.

  4. Bornajoo
    June 29, 2015, 5:55 pm

    “Pitiful”. Very apt word Just

    Thanks Alex

  5. just
    June 29, 2015, 6:52 pm

    fyi:

    Max Blumenthal
    Gaza, and the Future of Israeli Politics
    7:30PM, Monday, June 29, 2015

    BUY TICKETS $5
    Doors open: 6:30pm
    Where
    Downstairs at Town Hall
    1119 Eighth Avenue (enter on Seneca Street)
    Seattle, Washington 98101

    http://townhallseattle.org/event/max-blumenthal/

    (“I’ll be discussing my book, The 51 Day War, tonight in Seattle” @ https://twitter.com/MaxBlumenthal/status/615644979017330693 )

  6. eusebio
    June 30, 2015, 8:53 am

    Diplomacy the peace in Palestine and Israel

  7. just
    June 30, 2015, 12:04 pm

    Helena Kennedy has a very good article up at The Guardian:

    “The 2014 conflict left Gaza’s healthcare shattered. When will justice be done?

    As the first anniversary of the Gaza conflict approaches, the battle for the narrative is again raging. The UN’s commission of inquiry into the conflict released its report to the human rights council in Geneva last week. Israel’s government, which refused to cooperate with their investigation, has already denounced the report. Its own findings have exonerated the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) from wrongdoing during Operation Protective Edge, and the IDF’s investigation into the deaths of four boys, killed by shelling while on a Gaza beach last July, exonerated the soldiers involved. It was the legal equivalent of marking your own homework.

    For Palestinians in Gaza, however, the continuing impact of the conflict is nothing short of catastrophic. The numbers speak for themselves: 17 hospitals, 56 primary healthcare facilities, and 45 ambulances were damaged or destroyed, and the total cost of the conflict to Gaza’s healthcare system is estimated at $50m. Sixteen healthcare workers were killed and 83, most of them ambulance drivers and volunteers, were injured. In total, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, at least 500 of whom were children, and more than 10,000 wounded.

    New figures show that medical assistance was obstructed for 511 of those who died last year, including 67 children. Obstacles such as live military zones, Israeli checkpoints and a lack of coordination meant that these individuals, all alive when reported to ambulance services, either died before the paramedics were able to access them, or before they reached hospital after being picked up.

    Behind these statistics are devastating human stories. …

    After the UN fact-finding mission which followed the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead conflict, the international community failed to adhere to its recommendations in any meaningful way. If the international community fails once more to respond to such attacks, it risks further eroding one of the most fundamental norms of international law. Impunity for attacks on healthcare in last year’s conflict would not only be a gross injustice for the victims, but would send the message that no place is safe for the building of a new hospital, no doctor or nurse safe to treat the wounded, and no ambulance safe to transport injured civilians away from conflict zones to receive care.

    Governments must not only make good on their promises to rebuild Gaza’s shattered healthcare system, but must also ensure that they never have to do so again. Reaffirming the protected status of hospitals in the fourth Geneva convention and ensuring the prevention of future attacks of this kind by tackling impunity are legal, political and medical imperatives for the international community.

    The UN’s commission of inquiry was established to investigate violations of international law during the conflict, to identify those responsible, and to make recommendations for mechanisms by which violators can be held to account. It has highlighted the inadequacy of existing accountability mechanisms within Israel to investigate and address potential crimes. As states consider this report in Geneva, those with the necessary international clout, including the UK, France and other European states, must lead the way to ending impunity. If accountability is to be achieved, either the existing mechanisms must be reformed and improved, or alternative international mechanisms, including the international criminal court, must be supported.

    Last month, the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond spoke of “international outrage” over the barrel-bombing of hospitals in Syria by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and promised to “bring those involved in these criminal acts to justice”. Whether struck by a precision-guided missile or a crude barrel bomb, the targeting of any hospital is deserving of equal opprobrium and international action to hold those responsible to account.

    Gaza has endured six conflicts in the past four years. Only by shouldering their responsibilities to uphold the protected status of hospitals and medical personnel under international law can governments avoid repeating the destruction we saw last summer once more.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/29/2014-conflict-gaza-healthcare-hospitals-war-crime-israel-hamas

  8. just
    July 1, 2015, 8:43 am

    “UN Human Rights Council to condemn Israel over Operation Protective Edge, but not demand sanctions

    The Palestinian resolution that will be brought to a vote on Thursday in the United Nations Human Rights Council concerning the international commission of inquiry’s report into Operation Protective Edge is expected to be harshly critical of Israel – but will not contain a demand for sanctions or any concrete moves against Israel, …

    A senior official in Jerusalem said that the present draft is a softened version of the original resolution submitted by the Palestinians. According to the official, United States representatives on the Human Rights Council, as well as representatives from several European countries led by Germany, are working to soften the resolution. For example, due to American and European pressure, a clause that called for the Human Rights Council to establish new mechanisms responsible for monitoring and implementing the report’s recommendations has been deleted.

    Israel was concerned that the draft resolution would also include recommendations for action by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or an assertion that the handling of the recommendations from the commission’s report should be transferred from the Human Rights Council in Geneva to the UN Security Council in New York, which has much greater authority and importance. But the Americans and Europeans stated publicly, as well as in quiet diplomatic talks, that they would oppose any such clause.

    Despite the somewhat milder language of the proposal, Israel is still bracing for the possibility that in the coming 24 hours the wording could be made more severe again. Therefore Israel intends to continue with its efforts right up until Thursday afternoon’s vote to temper the text and recruit more countries, especially in Europe, to vote against the resolution or abstain from voting. On Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to brief all the foreign ambassadors in Israel and explain to them Israel’s position on the matter.

    Despite the absence of significant practical steps, the draft resolution does contain extremely harsh condemnations of Israel. It is one-sided, and makes no mention at all of the UN inquiry commission’s criticism of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza. The draft makes no mention of the rocket fire from Gaza or the harming of Israeli civilians, despite the relatively extensive discussion of this in the commission’s report.

    According to the draft, it is also Israel’s fault that the Palestinians do not conduct investigations into alleged war crimes that they commit. “We stress that the strengthening of internal Palestinian mechanisms of accountability requires an end to Israel’s policy of separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” the draft reads.

    “The Human Rights Council is gravely concerned by reports regarding serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of the military operations that were launched by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on December 27, 2008 and on June 13, 2014, respectively.”

    The draft also condemns “all violations of human rights and all violations of international humanitarian law, including actions that may amount to international crimes, and [its authors are] appalled that these have resulted in widespread and unprecedented levels of destruction, death and human suffering.”

    The draft also stresses that Israel must end the occupation in the territories and the need to lift the Israeli blockade of Gaza, “strongly condemning the non-cooperation by Israel with a large number of UN mechanisms, including the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict.”

    “[We are] deeply concerned at the lack of implementation of the recommendations of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2009, which follows a pattern of persistent lack of implementation of recommendations made by previous UN commissions of inquiry,” reads the draft.

    The draft also expresses concern that those responsible for alleged violations of international law have not been tried, and that Palestinians’ rights are repeatedly violated without any implications. “[We] regret the repeated failure by Israel to carry out genuine investigations in an impartial, independent, prompt and effective way as required by international law … and its systematic failure to investigate the role of senior officials in alleged violations of international humanitarian law.”

    The draft adopts the UN commission of inquiry’s report and recommendations, and calls for all UN-related bodies to work to implement the recommendations. The draft calls on the UN high commissioner on human rights, Jordanian Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, to reexamine the recommendations of previous commissions of inquiry as well as those of the current one. It says that those responsible for committing war crimes during the last war in Gaza must be brought to justice and “stresses the need to pursue practical steps toward these goals.”

    The draft also “calls upon all states to adopt measures to ensure that their public authorities and private entities do not become involved in internationally unlawful conduct by Israel.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.663921?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    (Gotta love that last paragraph! BDS!!! Are you listening, Defense Department and Boeing, Caterpillar, etc. ad nauseam?) Btw, there’s nothing to say that countries cannot impose their own sanctions…

    Related:

    “Samantha Power, the American envoy to the United Nations, has been put on the spot by a full-page ad in the New York Times over the weekend. The ad, placed by Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt, recounted the assurances Power made to Jewish leaders — and the Senate — two years before U.S. President Barack Obama named her the country’s envoy to the United Nations. The ad ran under the headline, “Ambassador Power: Will you defend Israel at the UN as you promised?”

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.663890

    ugh.

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