Canadian Trapped in Gaza
- After Annapolis
Jewish Voices for Peace
Those around the world who expected little more than cursory speeches
from the Annapolis meeting this past week were not disappointed.
Annapolis delivered those speeches, a few photo-ops and, something
that was not as sure a result, a re-starting of discussions between
Israel and the Palestinians. But the outcomes were also deeply flawed.
Annapolis was a one-day meeting that consisted of a lot more style
than substance. Nonetheless, it was an important event in that it
re-started a diplomatic process. Seven years of effective
disengagement, have conclusively proven that absent such a process,
matters get dramatically worse. The re-start of negotiations offers at
least the hope of a slowing down of violations of international law,
and certainly affords more opportunities for activists to work to
influence the process. The fact that the Arab world is in support of
this process (as opposed to the Camp David summit in 2000, for
example) is an improvement over past conditions.
That said, the makeup and direction of both the conference and its
intended aftermath seem to be more of the same thing that has failed
so miserably in the past. Diplomatic engagement is good, but in order
for it to be successful it must meet the following standards, none of
which have been met by the agreement signed in Annapolis:
International law must be the guiding principle of all the talks and
Palestinians' human and civil rights must be given the priority. In
the short term, that means addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza
and the dreadful conditions and restrictions in the West Bank which
violate international law. In the long term, it means a full
acknowledgment that the Palestinians are entitled to full
self-determination, not only that which Israel will allow.
Talks must be mediated in an honest and even-handed fashion. The US
has shown time and time again that it is incapable of being an honest
broker, and chances are that a future president will do no better, so
the US must allow other bodies, such as the EU, UN or Quartet to fill
All concerned parties have to be engaged. It is absurd to believe
that Hamas can be left outside of the entire process and that Abbas
can then obtain any kind of peace deal that can survive in the real
world. Moreover, it is not just to try to reach agreement if all the
factions of one side or the other do not have their representation and
Iran must also be engaged so that an agreement can be sustainable
and regional stability enhanced.
Talk is fine, and important, but it must be accompanied by immediate
steps toward improving conditions, otherwise it is doomed to failure.
The disastrous Oslo process, which saw the doubling of Israeli
settlements while peace was being negotiated, taught the world the
importance of matching actions with words.
Israel has every right to pursue security and the ending of shelling
of its towns. But this issue does not supersede all others, and
Israel, which has utterly failed to provide that security by military
means, should be seeking to engage all the players, including Hamas,
precisely to serve that interest, among the others we have listed.
These are basic elements that are necessary for any progress, and they
were missing before Annapolis and remain so.
When our leaders fail us, it is up to civil society organizations and
individuals everywhere to do everything possible to pressure our
governments to put these issues on the table. Today we have an opening
which we should take full advantage of, however small, to remind the
world that a lasting and just peace really is possible if these basic
standards are met. We cannot sit idly and wait for our leaders to make
these commitments without pressure from citizens, religious groups,
advocacy groups and others.
Human Rights and the Situation on the Ground
Virtually ignored in the various speeches at Annapolis was the fact
that Israel intends, as soon as December 2, to begin cutting off
Gaza's power supply. The construction of the wall and expansion of
existing settlements is continuing, as is Israel's confiscation of
Palestinian land. The hundreds of checkpoints and numerous Israeli
military operations in both the West Bank and Gaza daily are continuing.
Conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate even before the power
reduction, and the conditions in the West Bank have seen little
improvement in the past few months despite the infusion of some
badly-needed funds. Lives are being lost daily, and other lives are
being devastated. Can anyone, whatever their proposed solutions and
whatever their views of the larger conflict possibly believe that
these conditions create an atmosphere where even the best intentions
for peace can flourish?
It would not have been difficult to arrange for some immediate relief
to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and at least some substantive
measures to make some noticeable improvement in conditions in the West
Bank, but this did not occur. Given that Israel has already made clear
its intention to worsen those conditions, it is hard to see how any
follow-up can make positive progress.
The conference saw Israel and the Palestinian Authority commit to
negotiations aimed at a comprehensive treaty by the end of 2008.
Whether that is realistic or not is open to debate, but left
unaddressed are conditions that are necessary for such talks to have
even a faint hope of success. Chief among these is the current lack of
Palestinian unity in its leadership. Hamas has been completely
isolated from these proceedings, and from any point of view, that
means there is no possibility of any agreement forged between Mahmoud
Abbas and Ehud Olmert, however unlikely that may be, actually taking hold.
True, Hamas' popularity has slipped considerably in recent months. A
recent poll indicated that around 20% of Palestinian voters would vote
for a Hamas candidate, much fewer than actually did vote for Hamas in
the 2006 election which triggered sanctions against the Palestinians
because the US, Israel, the EU and the Arab League as well were
dissatisfied with the results of that election. But 20% is still a
significant minority, and that figure encompasses only those who would
vote for Hamastheir view on peace talks are likely shared by
significantly more Palestinians. While that can be overcome through a
political process expressing the will of the majority, it cannot
simply be isolated and ignored. That is neither just, as that is the
voice of a significant portion of the population, nor is it practical
as 20% is enough to de-stabilize any agreement.
Another major problem is the list of documents that Ehud Olmert
recited as the basis for future talks. He mentioned UNSC resolutions
242 and 338, which is good. He mentioned the Roadmap, which is
considerably less useful, but its inclusion was to be expected. But he
also mentioned George Bush's 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon, which
promised that Israel would not have to return to the 1967 borders and
that no Palestinian refugee would ever return behind the Green Line.
We at JVP have long decried this letter as the most egregious
political and diplomatic blunder. Even if one believes that those
promises should characterize a final deal between Israel and the
Palestinians (which is not JVP's stance), it is obvious that such a
declaration by the US pre-empts any useful negotiations. This letter
is only one among many examples of the US acting as an Israeli ally
and not as an "honest broker" and demonstrates why the US is not seen
as capable of being that honest broker. What does it leave the
Palestinians to bargain with? Even as staunch an Israel-first advocate
as Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) decried this letter in Congress
earlier this year. For any possible progress in talks, this letter
must be rescinded, which is precisely what Olmert fears and was trying
to prevent in his speech.
The Roadmap is the basis for the final status talks. It is not a good
one, as the document is very thin, includes no enforcement mechanisms,
and does not use human rights as a primary guide. But it is not going
away as long as George Bush is president, so it is what there is. The
lack of enforcement was addressed only minimally by installing the US
as an arbiter and requiring periodic judgments from the US as to
whether the two sides are meeting their obligations, but still
providing no mechanism to address non-compliance. This can conceivably
lead to some pressure on Israel to actually act on freezing settlement
growth and removing outposts, all of which could, if promoters of
justice and peace can act forcefully, lead to the beginning of removal
of settlements. That is a very thin hope, and it comes at a price.
Now, the US is the sole arbiter, rather than the Quartet (the US, UN,
EU and Russia). True, the US dominated that group as well, but it had
to make at least some effort to appease the other bodies, which do not
have the "special relationship" with Israel that makes US mediation
and brokership so problematic. Now the only "broker" is the one that
clearly declares its favoritism for one side over the other. It's hard
to see how that can lead to positive results. It will be important in
the coming months to renew efforts for wider international involvement.
Syria, Iran and the Arab League
Syria's last-minute agreement to attend the conference was an
important positive development. If one looks carefully, however, at
the words of both Olmert and Bush, we see laid bare the different
goals of the US and Israel. Olmert's speech included a call for peace
with all the surrounding states, and his listing of the different
directions of those states (north, east and south), was clearly meant
to include Syria. Bush, on the other hand, explicitly stated that
Syria was not to be part of the process yet. Mahmoud Abbas, for his
part, stated clearly that any peace deal must include Syria and the
return of the Golan Heights. It is important that this call be
supported, not only because dealing with Syria is a necessary
component of a sustainable peace, but also because Syria can be
instrumental in bringing Hamas into the process. This is necessary
both to heal the rift among the Palestinians, but also for any chance
for a sustainable peace, whatever the parameters.
This also touches on the continuing effort to isolate Iran. It is
foolhardy to set up a situation where peace negotiations are a threat
to Iran. This only sets up failure and the intensification of the
already dangerous standoff with Iran. Bombastic rhetoric aside, Iran
has proven over the years that they can be engaged in diplomatic
processes and it is indispensable to do so in this regard.
Olmert's brief acknowledgment of the Arab League offer, issued in 2002
and repeated earlier this year, was positive but far from sufficient.
The Arab League put this proposal forward as the outline of
negotiations, because it addresses the basic Palestinian demands and
offers Israel exactly what it wants--peace, full recognition and full
normalization of relations with the Arab world. That this is not the
basis for the continuing talks is indefensible. True, the Arab
League's current positioning has at least as much to do with their
fear of Iran as it does with justice for the Palestinians, but they
are also not in favor of escalating the tensions with Iran, much less
of a war which will cause their region great harm. This argues not
only for engagement with Iran and negotiations with Syria but also
demonstrates how much potential there is right now for a just
resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel and the US are
apparently determined, however, to let this chance pass by.
Canadian woman is trapped behind Gaza borders
Sat. Dec. 1 2007
CTV.ca News Staff
Asmaa Olwan left her home in Canada for what she thought would be a
short visit to her ailing parents in the Gaza Strip. Eight months
later she and her two young children are still stuck there, trapped by
closed borders in a political war.
"I want to go back to my home and my job and my husband," Olwan told
CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer in Gaza City.
Olwan, a resident of Regina, already lost her job as a teacher while
waiting for a chance to get home. She said she's getting more
desperate to leave every day.
She and five other Canadian families are trapped in the diplomatic and
economic siege on Gaza, launched after the anti-Israeli group Hamas
took control of area.
Most foreigners were evacuated long ago, but Israel has so far refused
to let the last of the stranded Canadians out. Egypt, the only other
country to border the region, also stopped allowing people across its
border with Gaza -- leaving it isolated from the world.
Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel since it took control of the
Gaza Strip in June.
Israel has responded with incursions and border patrols.
In October, the Israeli government declared Hamas-led Gaza a "hostile
entity" and approved plans to cut off electricity to the area.
The desperation of the situation is not lost on Olwan, who is not sure
why Israel will not let her cross the border and return to Canada.
"If there's any danger, I don't know, they can put us in a cage and
get us out," she said.
Alan Baker, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, says there are security
concerns to clear up before they can allow her cross the border.
"We have no apparent reason to deny innocent Canadians the right to go
home," Baker said.
Meanwhile, Canadian officials have not offered Olwan a guess as to why
Israel would consider her family a threat.
"I trust them and I give them my vote to help me in these situations
and they've done nothing," she said.
With a report from CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer
Torturing Palestinian Detainees
By Stephen Lendman
14 November, 2007
B'Tselem is the conservative Israeli Information Center for Human
Rights in the Occupied Territories with a well-deserved reputation for
accuracy. A group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists and
Knesset members founded the organization in 1989 to "document and
educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights
violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of
denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human
rights culture in Israel" to convince government officials to respect
human rights and comply with international law.
Its work covers a wide range of human rights issues that include
detentions and torture. In May, 2007, it prepared a detailed 100 page
report titled "Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-treatment of
Palestinian Detainees" that's now available in print for those who
request it. This article summarizes its findings that represent a
joint effort by B'Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the
Individual that was founded in 1988 to support Palestinian rights
during the first intifada in the late 1980s.
Since the early 1990s, B'Tselem published more than ten reports on
Israelis' use of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees.
This is the latest one in an effort to raise public awareness and help
abolish these abhorrent practices. The findings are based on
testimonies solicited from a small "unrepresentative" sample of 73
Palestinian West Bank residents who were arrested between July, 2005
and January, 2006, agreed to tell their stories, and who met
predetermined criteria for the study.
They were chosen from the names of 4460 Palestinian detainees whose
relatives contacted HaMoked for help to locate their whereabouts.
HaMoked provides this service because Israel violates international
law and its own military regulations by denying family members any
information about who was detained or where they're being held. From
its many years investigating Israeli torture, B'Tselem believes the
information in this report accurately reflects the types and extent of
Israeli abusive practices.
Torture, abuse or degrading treatment are abhorrent in any form for
any reason, and long-standing international law forbids these
practices under all circumstances. The four 1949 Geneva Conventions
banned any form of "physical or mental coercion" and affirmed sick,
wounded, war prisoners and civilians must be treated humanely. All
four conventions have a common thread called Common Article Three that
requires all non-combatants to be treated humanely at all times. There
are no exceptions for any reasons, and violations are grave breaches
of Geneva and other international law that constitute crimes of war
and against humanity.
Nonetheless, the 1987 Landau Commission (headed by retired Israeli
Supreme Court Chief Justice Moshe Landau) cited the "necessary
defense" provision in the Penal Law to recommend using "psychological
and moderate physical pressure," to obtain evidence for convictions in
criminal proceedings. Its justification was that coercive
interrogation tactics were necessary against "hostile terrorist
activity" it defined to include not just threats or acts of violence
but all activities related to Palestinian nationalism.
Later in September, 1999, Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ)
responded to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel's petition
(PCATI) and issued a landmark decision (reversing Landau
recommendations) and barred the use of torture against detainees. It
was, however, a hollow gesture as at the same time it ruled pressure
and a measure of discomfort were legitimate interrogation side-effects
but should not be used to break a detainee's spirit. It then added a
giant loophole allowing interrogators to use physical force and avoid
prosecutions in "ticking time bomb" cases even though international
law allows no exceptions, and Israeli authorities could claim that
excuse for anyone in custody.
Since its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (the OPT) in 1967,
Israel imprisoned over 650,000 Palestinians according to the
Palestinian peace and justice group MIFTA. That's equivalent to about
one-sixth of the OPT's population today. The security services
currently hold around ten to twelve thousand Palestinian men, women
and children in its prisons under deplorable conditions with many
under administrative detention without charge. Based on earlier
assessments by Hamoked, B'Tselem estimates as many as 85% of them are
subjected to torture and mistreatment in custody even though most of
them aren't accused of terrorism. These practices are routinely and
systematically used against political activists, students accused of
being pro-Islam, sheikhs and religious leaders, people in Islamic
charitable organizations, relatives of wanted individuals or any man,
woman or child Israel targets for any reason.
B'Tselem's May, 2007 report states that the Israeli Security Agency
(ISA - formerly called the General Security Service or GSS) admits to
using "exceptional" methods that include "physical pressure" of
interrogation in "ticking bomb" cases that can be used as an excuse to
abuse anyone. In addition, law enforcement officials openly admit
harsh measures are approved retroactively so that Palestinian detainee
rights can be freely violated without fear of recrimination. In other
words, ISA interrogators know the rules - don't ask permission, use
any methods you wish, and don't worry about the consequences after the
fact. There won't be any, and it shows in what detainees told B'Tselem.
They reported being "softened up" for interrogation from the moment of
their arrest to when ISA agents took over. Abuses at the outset
included beatings, painful binding, swearing, humiliation and denial
of basic needs. The ISA procedure then included seven key forms of
abuse that violated the detainees' dignity and bodily integrity. They
were inflicted to break their spirit, but international law calls it
torture when it includes verified intent, severe pain or suffering,
improper motive, and involvement of the state. All those conditions
apply to Israeli abusive practices that included:
-- isolation that prohibited detainees from contact with family, an
attorney or ICRC representatives; this exacerbated detainees' sense of
powerlessness by creating a situation in which they're completely at
the mercy of interrogators; it's also known to cause them serious
psychological harm when continued for extended periods;
-- psychological pressure from solitary confinement in "putrid,
stifling cells three to six square meters in size" with no windows or
access to daylight and fresh air; a fixed overhead light on 24 hours a
day; walls made of rough plaster making them uncomfortable or
impossible to lean against; a water faucet on one wall and some cells
with sinks; a usually dirty and damp mattress and "filthy putrid"
blankets on the floor; nothing else in cells; reading and writing
materials not allowed; in many cells, toilets were holes in the floor;
detainees denied all human contact except for guards and interrogators.
-- physical conditions in solitary confinement cells are regulated in
Criminal Procedure Regulations issued by Israel's Minister of Internal
Security with the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and
Justice Committee; they don't apply to "security detainees," however,
so cells have no bed, chairs and most often no sink; nothing else
provided including use of a telephone and right to have visitors
provide items; cells were too small to walk around in, and no daily
outside exercise was allowed;
-- detainees weakened from lack of physical activity, sleep
deprivation and inadequate food; they're denied basic needs like food
and liquids, medicines or the right to relieve themselves; throughout
long hours of interrogation, they're shackled to a chair unable to
move hands or legs even minimally; they had nutritional deficiencies
and food received was inadequate, cold, improperly cooked, flavorless
and often repulsive in appearance; many detainees resisted eating as
long as possible;
-- shackling in the "shabah" position that's the prolonged and painful
binding of detainees' hands and feet to a standard-sized
unupholstered, metal frame, rigid plastic chair fixed to the floor
with no armrests; hands tightly bound behind the back in adjustable
plastic handcuffs and connected to a ring at the back of the seat to
stretch them uncomfortably below the backrest; legs bound to the
chair's front legs; detainees were unable to get up throughout
interrogation that on average lasted eight consecutive hours without a
break and on the first day ran 12 hours; later in the interrogation
period, sessions shortened to four or five hours;
-- interrogations only for a small portion of this time; for most if
it, interrogators were out of the room; at those times air
conditioning turned up to uncomfortably cold levels; most often only
one meal served during a day's interrogation; very sparing toilet
privileges allowed; nearly all detainees complained of severe back,
neck, shoulder, arms and wrist pain during interrogation; numbness or
loss of sensation in limbs also reported; the Israeli High Court of
Justice (HCJ) ruled in 1999 that all "shabah" shackling procedures are
unlawful since they violate rules for "reasonable and fair
interrogation" and injure detainees' dignity and well-being; ISA
interrogators ignore the ruling with impunity;
-- cursing and humiliating strip searches of detainees as well as
shouting, spitting in the face and other related abusive practices;
detainees forced to strip naked and submit to body searches while
being yelled at and mocked;
-- intimidations made to include threats of physical torture (called
"military interrogation"), arrest of family members and destruction of
-- using informants ("asafirs") to get information that's not abusive
as such but is a very questionable method following preparatory
B'Tselem then discussed "special" interrogation methods that mostly
involve physical violence:
-- sleep deprivation for 30 to 40 hours during which detainees left
painfully shackled in interrogation rooms; guards frequently awakened
detainees between midnight and 5AM; various type oppressive noises
used at night to interfere with sleep;
-- use of "dry" beatings that included punching, kicking all parts of
the body, striking with rifle butts and face slapping; detainees hit
with clubs, helmets and other objects; heads slammed against a wall,
floor or hard surface; beatings inflicted when detainees' hands were
bound behind their back, and they were blindfolded; additional
beatings during physical inspections with their hands cuffed;
-- painful binding with handcuffs or other devices tight enough to cut
off blood flow circulation and cause swelling;
-- sharp twisting of the head forcefully and suddenly sideways or
-- forced "frog" crouching on tiptoes with cuffed hands behind the
back accompanied by shoving or beating until detainees lost their
balance and fell forward or backward; this method inflicts pain by
increasing pressure on leg muscles and also hurts wrists after falling;
-- use of forced "banana" position that involves bending the back in a
painful arch while the body is extended horizontally to the floor on a
backless chair with arms and feet bound beneath it.
Prison killings also occur like the October 22 one at the notorious
Ketziot Detention Center in the Negev desert where 2300 Palestinians
are held under very harsh conditions. It happened at 2AM when prison
guards began searching tents and strip-searching inmates in a
deliberate middle of the night provocation. Prisoners resisted and
about 550 members of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) Metsada riot
dispersal unit responded with excessive force by beating them with
plastic clubs and rifle butts as well as firing rubber-coated bullets,
live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades that set tents ablaze and
caused as many as 250 inmate injuries and at least nine serious ones.
During the assault, Mohammed Al Ashqar was killed after being shot in
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) maintains that prisoner
abuse, repressive tactics and killing Palestinians is official Israeli
policy that's become even worse under current IPS director, Beni
Kaniak. PCHR reports he instituted these punitive measures:
-- reductions in food and cleaning materials rations;
-- additional items prisoners forbidden to have;
-- confiscated prisoners' money and prevented none sent from families
to reach them;
-- widespread use of solitary confinement;
-- periodic movement of prisoners to new facilities to prevent any
sense of stability;
-- repeated unannounced harsh late night raids like the October 22 one
These tactics and Palestinian detainee torture and abuse are condoned
"under the auspices of the Israeli law enforcement system." B'Tselem
reported since 2001, Israel's State Attorney's Office got over 500
complaints of these practices but investigated none of them. Overall,
instances of detainee mistreatment are rarely looked into and even
fewer ever result in indictments. Further, despite its 1999 ruling,
Israel's High Court of Justice (HCJ) aids ISA interrogations by
refusing to accept even one of hundreds of petitions brought before it
for redress. HCJ also lets ISA conceal information from detainees that
abusive orders were issued against them or that legal petitions were
filed on their behalf. It further allows evidence obtained under
torture to be used in criminal proceedings.
B'Tselem and HaMoked are committed to ending Israel's use of torture
against Palestinian detainees. They cite the example of the US Army's
September, 2006 Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector
Operations as a proper guide to conducting interrogations even though
authorized physical and psychological brutality became official
administration policy under George Bush post-9/11. Nonetheless, this
manual covers 18 interrogation methods experience showed work under
varying situations and conditions. They range from establishing trust
between interrogator and detainee to the use of ruses and
psychological manipulation. In all cases, they don't involve torture
or other unlawful practices.
It's one thing to have rules and laws and another to abide by them.
The US under George Bush condones and practices "the harshest
interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency"
according to once secret Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinions.
It's no different in Israel where the ISA systematically and routinely
uses banned interrogation measures with impunity. B'Tselem and HaMoked
want these practices ended and urge the Israeli government to halt
them by enacting enforceable laws "strictly prohibiting torture and
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in accordance with
They further recommend every complaint of abuse and torture be
investigated by an independent body, persons found to have broken the
law to be prosecuted, and that "every detainee receives minimum humane
conditions." Israel claims to be a civilized state. It's about time it
acted like one.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
lendmanstephen @ sbcglobal.net.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The
Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMIcroEffect.com Mondays
at noon US central time.
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