Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Palestine News Update: Another Gaza War?; Racial Discrimination; Seeking International Recognition

Another Gaza war?

By Sherine Tadros in Middle East
December 26th, 2010
Al Jazeera

On Thursday, as I hurried into Gaza, that was the question everyone was asking – from news editors in Doha, to the guy who carries luggage through the Erez terminal, to the Hamas official who took my passport details.

If the donkeys in Gaza could talk this is what they would be asking: Is there going to be another war?

Maybe because I was there during the last assault people see me as a bad omen in Gaza ... but there is real cause for concern.

Last week the strip witnessed the most violent few days since the end of the war, with Israel killing several fighters and dozens of mortars and rockets being fired towards southern Israel [one lightly injured an Israeli teenage girl].

From discussions with Hamas and military wings in Gaza, the good news is, it doesn't look like another war will happen right now. The bad news: is it is likely to happen.

Make War not Love

For the past two years, since the war ended, there has been no effort to reconcile Israel and Hamas, not even whispers of talks (direct or indirect) between the two.

The unilateral ceasefire declared in 2009 seems to be holding only because neither Hamas nor Israel is ready for another round.

Instead, both have used this time to regroup, rearm and, particularly for Hamas, recover .... building an arsenal that will ensure the next war will be deadlier - for both sides - than the last.

Israel has learnt from it’s 2006 war with Hizbullah and fitted it’s Merkava tanks with defence systems that can neutralize advanced missiles. It says it is deploying these tanks on the Gaza border.

The Palestinian 'legitimacy war'

Civil movements have led to positive changes on a global level in the past, setting a precedent for the BDS movement

Richard Falk Last Modified: 24 Dec 2010 13:21 GMT

Palestinian authority figures and political parties have failed to break the stasis in the Palestinian struggle for legitimacy, only time will tell if the BDS movement will fair any better

There has long been advocacy of the idea that judges in national courts could help strengthen the implementation of global norms by extending the reach of national law, especially for serious crimes that cannot be otherwise prosecuted.

The authority to use national courts against piracy on the high seas was widely endorsed, and constitutes the jurisprudential basis for what has come to be known as 'universal jurisdiction,' that is, regardless of where a crime was committed or the national identity of the alleged perpetrator or victim, a national court has the authority to attach its law.

This reliance on universal jurisdiction received a strong shot in the arm as a result of the war crimes trials at the end of War War II against surviving German and Japanese political and military leaders, a legal framework institutionalised internationally in 2002 as a result of the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Collective justice

The underlying rationale is that aggressive war, crimes against humanity, and severe violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law are crimes against the whole of humanity, and not just the victim state or people. Although the Nuremberg Judgment was flawed, 'victors’ justice,' it generated global norms in the form of the Nuremberg Principles that are considered by international law consensus to be universally binding.

These ideas underlie the recent prosecution of geopolitical pariahs such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, and several African tyrannical figures. But when it comes to the lead political actors, as understood by the American-led hegemonic hierarchy, the leadership of the rest of the world enjoys impunity, in effect, an exemption from accountability to international criminal law.

It is a prime instance of double standards that pervades current world order, perhaps, most prominently illustrated in relation to the veto power given permanent members of the UN Security Council or the Nonproliferation Regime Governing Nuclear Weaponry. Double standards severs any link between law as administered by the state system on a world level and pretensions of global justice. The challenge for those seeking global justice based on international law that treats equals equally is to overcome in every substantive setting double standards and impunity.

The world of sovereign states and the United Nations have not been able to mount such a challenge. Into this vacuum has moved a surging global civil society movement that got its start in the global fight against colonialism, especially, the Vietnam War, and moved forward dramatically as a result of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign.

The power of solidarity

Various instruments have been relied upon, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions solidarity movements, informally constituted citizens’ war crimes tribunals (starting with the Russell Tribunal during the Vietnam War, and extended by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Rome, and in 2005 by the Iraq War Tribunal that held 20 sessions around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul), civil disobedience in various forms, especially refusals to serve in military operations that violate international law.

It was a coalition of civil society actors that created the political climate that somewhat surprisingly allowed the International Criminal Court to come into being in 2002, although unsurprisingly without the participants of the United States, Israel, and most of the senior members of the geopolitical first echelon.

It is against this background, that two contradictory developments are to be found that will be discussed in more detail in subsequent articles: the waging of an all out Legitimacy War against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for a just peace and a backlash campaign against what is called 'Lawfare' by Israeli hardliners. A Legitimacy War strategy seeks popular mobilization on the basis of nonviolent coercion to achieve political goals, relying on the relevance of international law and the accountability of those that act on behalf of states in the commission of crimes of state.

Legitimacy vs. Lawfare

The Goldstone Report illustrates this interface between a Legitimacy War and Lawfare, reinforcing Palestinian contentions of victimization as a result of Israel’s use of force as in the notorious Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) and driving Israel’s top leaders to venomous fury in their effort to discredit the distinguished jurist, Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN mission responsible for the report, and the findings so convincingly reached.

With Israeli impunity under growing threat there has been a special pressures placed on the United States to use its geopolitical muscle within the UN to maintain the mantle of impunity over the documented record of Israeli criminality, and to make sure that the UN remains a selective sanctuary for such outrageous grants of impunity. These issues of criminal accountability are on the front lines of the Legitimacy War, and provide the foundation for efforts throughout the world in relation to the growing BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).

The Lawfare counterattack at one level acknowledges the strength of civil society efforts, but it is also cynically and polemically undertaken to discredit reliance on international law by those who are victimized by abusive and oppressive uses of military and police power.

The Palestinians have been victimized in these respects for more than 62 years, and their efforts to end this intolerable set of realities by an innovative reliance on nonviolent resistance and self-defense deserves the support of persons of conscience throughout the world.

Whether this reliance on a Legitimacy War can finally achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace for both peoples, only the future can tell, but there is no doubt that this struggle is the best contemporary instance of 'a just war'.
Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008). He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

Racial discrimination - a tool of occupation

By Nour Odeh in Middle East
December 20th, 2010.

Our destination was Jub Al-Dib in the Bethlehem area. We located it on the map but getting there by car was a different story.

That’s because the West Bank is very spread out, despite its small area. There are hundreds of sometimes tiny communities strewn across the hills and valleys. And going from Palestinian point A to Palestinian point B in the West Bank has nothing to do with directions, logic, or geography.

It is decided by a very intricate system of rules, restrictions, and checkpoints that Israel has designed to limit Palestinian movement. There are settler-only roads, "shared" roads, and then there are no roads at all … just rugged terrains.

So sometimes, to go southwest, Palestinians must first drive northeast, etc. …

Once we got to the general area, we had to be careful not to get on "Lieberman road"; a settler-only road that bypasses several Palestinian towns and villages in the area. It’s there to connect the illegal settlement of Nokedim to occupied East Jerusalem. The settlement is home to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister - hence the name.

After over a dozen phone calls, we finally found the dirt road leading to Jub Al-Dib, population 150. No road here, just a bumpy lane up the hill.

Jub Al-Dib looks like a ghost town; no roads, no school but plenty of children, and run-down or abandoned homes.

In its latest report, Human Rights Watch says this village is living proof of a deliberate Israeli policy of racial discrimination against Palestinians that has had a devastating effect on this and other communities. The organization says Israel employs a two-tier system, which encourages and funds the building and infrastructure of Israeli settlements that enjoy all amenities while adjacent Palestinian communities are denied the right to any of those very services. So settlements grow, while these communities dwindle.

These Palestinian communities are under full Israeli control or Area C. Area C makes up over 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank with an estimated dwindling Palestinian population of 150,000.

Walking between the homes, I came across Amneh, planting a small plot of land encircled by a pile of rocks and twisted metal. This plot was Amneh’s home until four years ago when Israeli forces demolished it because construction is banned here. Now, the rubble is her make-shift fence and vegetables grow where she once slept.

Amneh doesn’t want to leave her village but many others have. Her brothers have all moved out, forced to find some space to accommodate their growing families. Human Rights Watch says this exodus is directly caused by the Israeli restrictions and it has displaced 31 per cent of area C’s population.

Amneh and her four children now live in an unfinished apartment in the middle of the village and she’s still afraid to get a demolition order. The only windows she put are in her children’s room; the rest of the house makes do with sheets.

There’s also no electricity, even though the electricity grids powering the nearest of three settlements around them is a mere 350 meters away. Israel also refused a donor-funded program to provide the residents with solar-powered lights.

Some residents have generators for occasional use. But mostly, families here live on kerosene lights. Studying has to be done before sundown and washing the laundry is an all-day affair. Winter is every mother’s nightmare here because after children walk 1.5 km to school in the mud and then back home, they return all muddied … No food can be stored too, so meat and perishable foods are occasional treats.

Going to the doctor is also an ordeal. An elderly woman called Eideh told me she feels like a prisoner. When she gets sick, the walk to the nearest road gets her even sicker. So she doesn’t leave Jub Al-Dib anymore.

Amneh is younger so she braves the hike out of the village to take her children to visit their cousins in nearby villages.

"I make sure to spend all day so the kids can have a good time. They get to watch TV and play," she told me.

This isolation and austere way of life is hard to imagine, much less cope with. But theirs is not a reality of choice; it is one forced on these communities. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, these villages are considered heroes of perseverance and defiance.

The Palestinian government has made them a priority; promising them aid and development projects despite the Israeli ban. But even after implementation, many of these projects are demolished by the Israeli army. An example is what has been dubbed "Freedom Road"; a short street connecting Qarawat Bani Hassan, another isolated village, to the main road. Israel has demolished "Freedom Road" two times already.

Less than a week ago, the Palestinian Authority prepared a road leading to Jub Al-Dib. It’s not paved. The children are not worrying about when it will be demolished or closed. For now, they enjoy it while they can…

"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," said Human Rights Watch.

Israel now stands out as a sole violator of this universal principle.

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